House of Commons
Tuesday 5 September 2017
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Middle Level Bill
That the promoters of the Middle Level Bill, which originated in this House in the previous Session on 24 January 2017, may have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of bills).—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Tuesday 12 September.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Legal Aid: Access
1. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that people in each region of England and Wales have adequate access to legal aid providers. 
The Legal Aid Agency regularly reviews the capacity of the legal aid market to cope with demand for legal aid and takes urgent action where any regional shortfall develops. I intend to look more widely at the impact of recent policy changes on access to legal aid as part of a forthcoming post-implementation review, about which I hope to be able to say more shortly.
The latest report from the Children’s Society, “Cut off from Justice”, found that in Yorkshire we saw a 56% drop in the availability of free immigration advice between 2012 and 2016. Given the acute vulnerabilities of unaccompanied children who need to access legal advice, will the Secretary of State commit to consider those children in the upcoming review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012?
There will certainly be an opportunity, as the hon. Lady wishes, for representations to be made and consideration to be given to that sort of change. While the most recent legislation did indeed exclude non-asylum immigration matters, much family law, including cases involving vulnerable children who might be taken into local authority care, is still eligible for legal aid.
While it is undoubtedly true that fewer people have access to legal aid than was the case before the reforms, it is also true that lots of people who are entitled to legal aid are not getting it. What can the Justice Secretary do to make sure that those people receive the finance that they need to get the access to justice that they require?
If people believe that they are entitled to legal aid, I would strongly encourage them to apply to the relevant authorities and to one of the legal aid providers that are contracted to provide that kind of advice. Even after the exclusion of certain categories in the most recent legislative reform, last year’s legal aid expenditure still amounted to £1.6 billion, which is nearly a quarter of my Department’s entire expenditure.
Does the Minister believe that a greater number of people who have to represent themselves in court—so-called litigants in person—helps justice to be done in this country?
What is important is that we manage legal aid in a way that directs finite taxpayer resources to those cases where there is greatest need, and that we look actively for ways to simplify access to justice, including through the use of digital technology, so that people do not feel the need always to have that kind of professional representation.
Barely a third of immigration detainees even know that they are entitled to 30 minutes of free legal advice in England and Wales, and only half have ever been able to access it. Given the horror show in Brook House that we saw on last night’s “Panorama”, will the Government act urgently to ensure that all detainees get access to the free legal aid that they urgently require?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the centre that was the subject of last night’s programme is accountable to the Home Office. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is concerned about the allegations and appropriate action is being taken.
On the hon. Gentleman’s broader point, legal aid is still available for asylum cases. I would certainly hope that appropriate measures are taken in every relevant establishment to bring those rights to the attention of anyone who is detained and might qualify for legal aid.
May I press the Secretary of State on a publication date for the legal aid review? Will he tell me how many people who have been denied legal aid since the Government changed the criteria the Government have heard from?
I would hope to able to give Parliament details in the relatively near future. I am conscious that this work has been promised. We have not yet been able to make an announcement, but the hon. Lady will appreciate that matters such as a general election and a change of Ministers have intervened. I want to press ahead with this as soon as possible.
Employment Tribunals: Rebates
2. When the Government plan to announce how rebate arrangements will work for people who have paid employment tribunal fees. 
Following the Supreme Court judgment on employment tribunal fees of the end of July, we immediately stopped charging them. We are putting in place arrangements to refund those who have paid the fees in the past, and we will announce the practical, detailed arrangements shortly.
I have been contacted by a constituent who highlighted the stress and financial burden that was placed on them while going through an employment tribunal case that they ultimately won. Will the Minister ensure that those who are entitled to claim back employment tribunal fees are made aware of the process and reunited with their money in a timely fashion?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it can be quite an ordeal to go to an employment tribunal—or any tribunal—which is why I pay tribute to the conciliation work of ACAS. We will set out practical arrangements for the reimbursement of those fees. We want to ensure that all the points—particularly about people’s awareness—are properly thought through before we do that.
Ah! The Chair of the Justice Committee, no less.
It is no pleasure to say that a number of the criticisms of the development of this policy were foreshadowed in a Justice Committee report in the previous Session. As well as rightly and promptly acting to reimburse fees paid, will the Minister undertake to look at some of the specific recommendations in that report and at the factual findings on the evidence in the Court’s judgment? That would highlight a better way of developing policy in this area so that we do not end up in this situation again.
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. We will certainly further consider his Committee’s report into this—[Interruption.] The former Chair of the Select Committee—
There is no Committee. He’s the Chair, but there is no Committee.
In due course.
The cost of employment tribunals last year was £68 million. Only £8 million came from fees; the rest was from taxpayers. It is inherently difficult to balance the contribution required by those who use the justice system against the amount that needs to be borne by the taxpayer, and we recognise that we got that balance wrong. We have ended those fees and are looking at practical arrangements to ensure that those affected are reimbursed.
In the light of the Court ruling and the Select Committee’s report, was the decision to introduce the fees in the first place a mistake?
We certainly accept the Supreme Court ruling. We think that we got the balance wrong and we have ended the fees. We are looking to ensure not only that we reimburse those affected, but that we learn lessons for the future.
The Women and Equalities Committee also called for changes in tribunal fees, particularly because they affect pregnant women and new mums, who have experienced significant increases in discrimination at work in the past 10 years. Will the Minister undertake to look at the other part of our recommendation, which is to increase the time limit from three months to six months for pregnant women and new mums to bring cases to court?
We will certainly look into all aspects of the various Select Committee reports when charting the way forward.
May I start by welcoming the Minister to his place?
The Supreme Court ruled that the secondary legislation that brought in the employment tribunal fees interfered with access to justice and employment rights, and that it discriminated unlawfully. Does the Minister accept that the Supreme Court’s judgment illustrates that fundamental rights such as equality and access to justice should not be changed or undermined by secondary legislation that receives little or no parliamentary scrutiny?
The hon. and learned Lady makes her point in a typically powerful way. The Supreme Court also recognised that fees can have a role to play. Of course, they do help to secure justice and access to justice by making the necessary resources available. Equally, we recognise that we got the balance wrong. That is why we have taken immediate action to end the fees. We will be coming up with proposals on the practical arrangements for reimbursement shortly.
In 2015, the Scottish Government said that as soon as the power to do so was devolved—and that is pending—they would abolish employment tribunal fees. Does the Minister agree that the fact that the Scottish Government chose to do that voluntarily—the UK Government were forced to do so by the Supreme Court—shows that the case for the devolution of employment law to Scotland is strong so that the Scottish Government may protect the interests of Scottish workers and access to justice?
We are fully in favour of the principle of devolution. A whole range of justice matters have been devolved, and we will look very carefully at how we get the balance right.
In the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale was very concerned about meritorious claims being put off by the fees. She also acknowledged that there are some unmeritorious claims, and those are the ones that damage relations in the workplace. Will the Minister consider fairer ways of sifting out unmeritorious claims, such as having a sift before the application is made into a full case?
My hon. Friend makes a strong point and that is certainly something we can look at. Equally, it is fair to say we got the balance wrong on the specific issue of fees. One of the strong elements we are looking to reinforce is the role of ACAS. We have seen that conciliation and the number of cases referred to conciliation have had a strong impact on reducing the number of cases that need to go to court or a tribunal.
I wrote to the Secretary of State back in July to call on him to issue a full and unequivocal apology to working people for deliberately and unlawfully blocking their access to justice through employment tribunal fees. Last week, I received a wholly inadequate reply, which I have here. Will the Minister apologise today for the suffering that this policy has caused hundreds of thousands of working people?
We have conceded that we got the balance wrong. I am happy to say that I am very sorry for any frustration or deleterious impact that this has caused anyone who has been affected. That is why we are acting so quickly to end the charges and to make sure there are practical arrangements for the reimbursement of anyone affected by these fees.
3. How Government investment in (a) cyber-security and (b) the National Cyber Security Centre will support victims of cyber-crime; and if he will make a statement. 
The Government are investing £1.9 billion to transform our ability to respond to the cyber-threats we face. This includes continuing to develop our support to victims of cyber-crime. I am committed to making sure that victims get the support they need to cope with and, as far as possible, recover from the effects of crime. The National Cyber Security Centre is part of GCHQ, which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has ministerial responsibility for.
Given that it is Government policy that victim support is commissioned locally by individual police and crime commissioners, is the Minister content that there is sufficient resource for victim support? Given the year-on-year increase in cyber-crime, and considering the national and international nature and background of cyber-criminals, does he not agree that a single, national approach to victim support would act as a better deterrent and a better support structure for victims, rather than allowing criminals to cherry-pick among the 43 police forces?
As I made clear in my initial response, cyber-security policy does not sit with this Department—in fact, it sits with the Cabinet Office. Victim support funding has gone up from £51 million in 2010-11, and I was pleased to announce that it is going up to £96 million in 2017-18. Most of that is spent via PCCs. Importantly, I have put in place an audit of the performance of PCCs with regard to funding for victims’ services.
20. As crime changes and the focus on cyber-crime grows, what assurances can the Minister give us that police budgets will match that changed focus and that we will not see a loss of bobbies on the beat as resources are inevitably shifted? 
Unfortunately, I am not a Minister at the Home Office, so I cannot really respond in detail to that question. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to write to the relevant Minister.
When will we see the draft of the victims’ Bill, which was committed to by the Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. We committed to the victims’ Bill in the last manifesto. We are up against it in terms of parliamentary time, as I am sure he understands, but work continues on the legislation most likely to underpin the victims’ code.
The Minister will recognise how vital international co-operation is in tackling cyber-crime. I hope he is aware of the excellent work done by Europol, with, for example, the UK sending over 400,000 malware files to its malware analysis service since its inception just two years ago. Have the Government decided whether the UK will stay part of that EU mechanism to fight cyber-crime?
I hate to repeat myself, but the two policy areas to which the right hon. Gentleman refers do not sit within the Ministry of Justice. Cyber-security sits with the Cabinet Office and our membership of Europol sits with the Home Office.
Child Sex Abuse: Compensation
4. What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of compensation paid by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority in child sex abuse cases. 
Child sexual abuse is abhorrent. The taxpayer-funded criminal injuries compensation scheme provides an important avenue of redress for victims and is accessible to victims of violent crimes, including physical and sexual assaults. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority administers the scheme and decides all claims individually, independently of Ministers and Parliament.
Will the Secretary of State commit to updating the guidance in three specific areas? First, children cannot be complicit in their own abuse. Secondly, as part of a grooming process, children are coerced into carrying out criminal activities. Thirdly, will he look at compensation for victims of family abuse under the same roof before 1979? At the moment, CICA is denying compensation on those grounds.
I am happy to look further at all those three issues. Following some of the concerns expressed earlier this year, CICA decided to mount an urgent re-examination of its own internal guidelines—in particular, to make sure that there is no risk that a child could be disqualified from compensation because they had given consent when that consent had, in effect, been forced from them by a subtle process of grooming. The Department is also aware of concerns that have been raised about how the rules of the scheme work more generally in relation to cases of child sexual abuse. We are talking to organisations such as Barnardo’s and Victim Support in detail about those concerns and the reforms that they propose to deal with them.
If it is a criminal offence to have sex with a child, how is such an offence anything but a crime of violence? To say that child victims cannot receive compensation for their abuse is simply victim blaming. The definition of a crime of violence was last reviewed five years ago. When will this be reassessed to ensure that sexually abused children are not denied compensation?
As I have said, we are discussing with the various charities the concerns that they have expressed. If the hon. Lady’s point was about the distinction that CICA makes between consent in law and consent in fact, this has been written into the law since it was first introduced by the previous Labour Government, I believe, and administered during their time in office. Its purpose was to ensure that we did not end up in a situation where, for example, two 15-year-olds engaging in sexual intercourse automatically led to a claim for compensation —it would be left to the authority to look at the facts of the case. I am very willing to look at, and CICA is already looking at, the guidance that applies to individual cases, but we should not lose sight of the fact that there was a reasonable motive behind the law as it was originally drafted.
No one will deny the absolute right and need of victims to receive proper compensation from CICA under these conditions, but does not the Secretary of State agree that there may be occasions—as in, for example, the very grave allegations made against the late Sir Edward Heath—when the informant is incentivised in one way or another to make the allegation by the likelihood of getting some kind of compensation? Should not the compensation wait so that the outcome of the investigation is known before the person making the allegations is paid?
The scheme operates to provide compensation for people who are victims of crime. Probably all of us, as constituency Members, can think of cases when somebody has been the victim of an assault, but it has been impossible to successfully prosecute the person or people responsible. A direct link to a trial and conviction is therefore not in the scheme. However, I do agree with my hon. Friend that if there is evidence that compensation has been sought fraudulently, the authority ought to seek the necessary legal action to recover those funds.
Offenders: Education and Employment
5. What steps the Government are taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. 
16. What steps the Government are taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. 
Education and employment opportunities are crucial to help offenders to turn around their lives. In line with our reforms, every prisoner will have a personal learning plan linked to their sentence plan. To make this reform effective, we are giving governors control over their education budgets to organise courses that fit prisoners’ needs.
Gardening and horticultural schemes for growing edible crops are increasingly being incorporated into prison programmes and programmes for those on remand up and down the country, giving offenders transferrable skills and offering them future employment opportunities, as well as encouraging self-confidence and, quite often, transforming unattractive concrete yards into much more pleasant green spaces. Has a formal assessment been made of some of those programmes, with a view to rolling out the best of the models even more widely?
My hon. Friend is right. I remember visiting Rye Hill prison near Daventry and seeing the pride with which prisoners tended their gardens; they spent hours doing so. She may be aware of the Royal Horticultural Society Windlesham trophy award, which is judged by an independent panel that looks at the best gardening schemes across the prison estate. If she does not mind, I should be delighted to put her name forward to be a judge.
Category D prisons often have the very best examples of rehabilitation as they prepare to let their prisoners back into the community. North Sea Camp in my constituency has worked with the council not only on that rehabilitative work to prepare prisoners for work but, for example, on fly-tipping, saving the taxpayer £300,000. Does the Minister agree that the other prisons in the sector can learn from category D’s rehabilitative practices, and will he come to North Sea Camp and have a look at how well they can work?
My hon. Friend has lighted on an important principle. Work in prison is vital to preparing prisoners for life after release—North Sea Camp has an excellent example—which is why I am supporting the New Futures Network to develop relationships between employers, governors and the world of work. I would be delighted to visit North Sea Camp in due course.
I have never heard such complacency from the Government. The Prison Service is a shambles, and at the heart of that shambles is the lack of education, the lack of literacy, the lack of numeracy and the lack of apprenticeships—services that, as they are for our Scandinavian brethren, should be in every prison. When is the Minister going to wake up?
The hon. Gentleman has come back from his summer holiday with his customary passion. I agree that if prisons are to work properly we need to give people the opportunity to turn their lives around. Prison reform is important to this Government. That is why we are giving governors more control of their budgets and more freedom to implement the plans that are necessary for offenders to turn their lives around. I share his concern and his passion, and such work is a priority for this Government.
How will the personal learning plans of which the Minister has just spoken operate when a prisoner is transferred from one prison to another? What guarantees can he give that the education path on which that prisoner has commenced can be continued in his or her new setting, and that there will be consistency of offer right across the prison estate?
The hon. Lady points out a very serious problem that currently exists on the estate. Prisoners are transferred and cannot continue courses that they have started—for example, some were on GCSE programmes and cannot finish them. We are looking at courses and technology systems that allow them to carry on what they have been doing when they are transferred from one prison to another, so that there is progression on all the courses. I completely agree with her, but we are looking at it.
21. If prison is to achieve anything, it must change lives. It has the best chance of doing that if we offer people both education and assisted places in work on release. Given that three fifths of offenders still leave prison without identified education or any employment opportunities, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend assure us that these programmes will be at the centre of the prison system and describe how these policies are being adjusted for greater success? 
My hon. Friend is right. About 50% of prisoners have the reading age and numeracy skills of an 11-year-old. If we are to give them a chance in life, we need to sort out education, but we also need to give them employment skills that are valued in the workplace. That is why prison reform, which is at the heart of the White Paper that the Government published last November, is carrying on at pace.
The chief inspectors of prisons and of probation recently issued a devastating report on the Government’s flagship community rehabilitation companies, which stated:
“None of the prisoners had been helped into employment by through-the-gate services”.
Will the Minister commit to an urgent review of the role of CRCs, including their delivery of education and employment services, and will he guarantee that no extra money will be passed on to those private companies until they can be proven to be fit for purpose?
The probation reforms that the previous Conservative Government rolled out mean that 45,000 offenders who previously would not have been supervised, because they had been in prison for less than 12 months, are now being supervised. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are challenges with what is a first-generation outsourcing programme. We have an ongoing probation review and extra funds have been invested in the CRCs, but we are still within the funding envelope that was decided at the start of the programme. We are carrying out the review to make sure that through-the-gate and other services operate as was envisaged in the original vision.
Prisons: Extremism and Radicalisation
6. What steps the Government are taking to counter extremism and radicalisation in prisons. 
13. What steps the Government are taking to counter extremism and radicalisation in prisons. 
We have established a new extremism unit, between Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and the Home Office, to strengthen our approach to tackling the threat of extremism in prisons and probation. Prison governors and frontline staff in prisons and the probation service are being given the training, skills and authority needed to challenge extremist views and take action against them. The first separation centre at HMP Frankland in County Durham was opened in June 2017, and the first prisoners are now being held there. Those facilities will hold the most subversive extremist prisoners, protecting the more vulnerable from their poisonous ideology.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, and it is right to say that extremists target and manipulate the prisoners who they think will be most susceptible. Given his answer, what impact does he anticipate the removal of such individuals will have on the prison population as a whole?
The decision to proceed with the separation centre was taken only after very careful thought. We judged that it would be beneficial for the general prison population, and in particular for vulnerable and impressionable prisoners, if we could take out of association with them those who pose the greatest risk. Those who are going to be in separation centres will be assessed by experts regularly, and they will be returned to the mainstream prison population only if it is judged that the risk they present has reduced to a level that can be effectively managed there.
Many young men start their journey towards radicalisation by seeking out in prison the strong male role models they so often lack in their lives outside. What is the Department doing to ensure that there are more better role models within the prison estate to guide them on to a better path?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which I think has relevance not just to matters of penal policy but to social policy more generally. Many charitable and voluntary organisations are helping—for example, by bringing sport into prisons—to provide the adult male role models of whom he wants more. In the context of extremism, it is also important to pay tribute to the work of the imams in the prison chaplaincy service who are arguing, from a basis of scholarship and expertise, to rebut the extremist ideology that some have espoused.
Figures from the right hon. Gentleman’s own Department show that there are approximately 1,000 prisoners who have either been radicalised or are vulnerable to being radicalised. When they leave prison, those such as Khalid Masood, the Westminster terrorist, need to be effectively monitored. Is the Lord Chancellor satisfied that there is a sufficiently robust relationship between the police and the prison authorities to make sure that when such people come out of prison we know where they are and what they are doing?
The information we have is that only one of those involved in the recent attacks in London and Manchester had spent time in prison. That dated back to 2003 and there was no evidence to suggest that that man had been radicalised in prison. We clearly want the strongest possible joint work between the police, the Prison Service and the probation service. I believe that what we have at the moment is strong, but there are always lessons that can be learned and improvements that can be sought. We are committed not to be complacent but to continue with vigilance and determination.
The Secretary of State spoke in his initial answer of a new initiative. Does that come with new money and, if so, is it adequate?
It is part of the duty of the Prison Service appropriately to look after all those whom the courts have sent into custody. We have found the money for the separation centres from within Ministry of Justice budgets—a sensible prioritisation of expenditure that will bring benefits to the management of the prison population more generally by separating those who pose a particular risk through extremist ideology.
Child Sexual Exploitation: Sentencing
7. What assessment the Department has made of the adequacy of sentencing for crimes involving child sexual exploitation. 
We have a robust sentencing framework for all crimes involving child sexual exploitation. The changes made in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 reinforced those punishments, giving the Parole Board a greater role to make sure that serious offenders are released only when it is safe.
Mubarek Ali will be released from prison on 1 November, five years after receiving a sentence of 22 years for child sexual exploitation in Telford. As the Minister just said, legislation was passed in 2015 to ensure that most serious offenders cannot be released until they have served two thirds of their sentence and satisfied the Parole Board that they are not a risk. What can he do to ensure that that legislation applies in this case?
I am aware of the case my hon. Friend raises, and of the heinous crimes that were committed and the appalling impact they had on the victims. She will know that the overhaul of the sentencing framework between 2012 and 2015 means that that type of sentence would not now be passed in that type of case. She will also appreciate that I cannot intervene in individual cases and that changes to legislation to strengthen sentences cannot be passed retrospectively. That is the problem and challenge in this case.
Bearing in mind that 56% of all victims of sexual offences in Northern Ireland in 2011 were under the age of 18, will the Minister outline the multi-regional approach that will be taken to deal with the aftermath of the sexual exploitation of children in the transition to adulthood?
That is a detailed and complex area, and I would be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on its impact in Northern Ireland.
One barrier to successful prosecutions in child sexual exploitation cases is the fact that, too often, victims are wrongly thought to be complicit in their own exploitation. That highlights the importance of the issue my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) just raised. There must be absolutely no suggestion in any Government guidance that children can be complicit in their own exploitation. That is why the guidance from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority needs to be changed—and needs to be changed now.
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. No one wants to lay the blame at the door of any victim, let alone the most vulnerable—in this case children. She heard what the Secretary of State said about CICA: it will be looked at in the context of the issues that have arisen recently. It operates in a different context from the criminal justice system, in that it can apply when there has not been a criminal conviction.
8. What steps the Government are taking to prevent the use of drones over prisons. 
Drones are a serious threat to order and stability in our prisons, given the contraband that they are used to smuggle. Our intelligence work tells us that a lot of this activity is backed up by organised crime gangs. That is why we have invested in our intelligence teams. There is also a specialist unit between the Prison Service and the police service to track down and prosecute such offenders. In the last year alone, there have been 40 arrests and 11 convictions of criminals involved in drone activity, resulting in those convicted serving a total of 40 years in jail.
With offenders being more than twice as likely to be reconvicted within 12 months of release from custody if they are known drug users, what work is being done to tackle the supply—potentially using drones—of drugs into our prisons?
Drones are one way in which drugs are smuggled into our prisons, but we are looking at all possible ways. For example, paper is sometimes impregnated with new psychoactive substances, which makes them very difficult to detect. The way to tackle the supply is to get intelligence not just from each establishment but from different parts of the Prison Service so that we can respond appropriately. We are investing heavily in doing so to combat the drugs problem in our prisons.
We are now substantially better informed.
The escape in February of a convicted murderer serving a 30-year sentence was linked to the dropping of a mobile phone into a prison in Liverpool using a drone so that he could liaise with villains outside to effect his escape. What steps is the Minister taking to enhance and expand the scheme that he has put in place to disrupt drones over prisons? In passing, has he found the prisoner yet?
The right hon. Gentleman, as a former prisons Minister, is well aware that the job of tracking down and arresting criminals is one for the police service, not the prisons Minister. In response to his other question, we are looking at various types of technology to disrupt drones flying into our prisons to deliver contraband.
9. What assessment his Department has made of the reasons for recent trends in the number of employment tribunal cases. 
In 2014, the Government introduced a requirement for potential claimants to consider conciliation before starting proceedings at the employment tribunal. The number of cases going to conciliation quadrupled, rising to 92,000 in 2015-16.
In the year after employment tribunal fees were introduced, sex discrimination claims fell by 67% and pregnancy discrimination claims by 37%. The Supreme Court made it clear in its recent judgment that fees disproportionately affected women. The Minister has outlined plans to reimburse those who have submitted claims, but what steps will be taken to compensate people who were denied access to justice because they could not afford to pursue a claim in the first place?
The hon. Lady is right to refer to the ending of the fees and the proposals for reimbursement that we will bring forward shortly. If there were potential claims that should have been made but were not, anyone who was unable to bring a claim can submit to the employment tribunal to have their case heard outside the usual time limits. The judiciary will consider those applications case by case.
European Court of Justice
10. What his Department’s policy is on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK after the UK leaves the EU. 
17. What his Department’s policy is on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK after the UK leave the EU. 
The Government have been clear that in leaving the EU we will bring about an end to the direct jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the United Kingdom.
As you know, Mr Speaker, Scotland has its own distinct legal system. Brexit will have a direct impact on that system, on justice agencies in Scotland and on a range of devolved issues. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that distinction will be given serious consideration as the Brexit negotiations progress?
Yes. Indeed, when I spoke to the Scottish Justice Minister Michael Matheson last month I emphasised to him that one of our key objectives in the official and ministerial-level meetings between my Department and his would be to ensure that the interests and features of the Scottish justice system are properly reflected in the UK’s work, particularly on future civil judicial co-operation with the European Union.
In January, the Prime Minister boldly and unambiguously asserted that Brexit would allow the UK to take back control of its laws and bring to an end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. Last month, however, the official Government document on the ECJ said something entirely different: Britain would be willing to work with the EU on arrangements for judicial supervision. Given that remarkable change, how did the Prime Minister get it so wrong in January?
The hon. Gentleman is misreading the Government’s position. The Prime Minister was very clear in her Lancaster House speech, as the Government have been, that this country’s exit from the European Union means that the EU’s treaties will cease to apply to the United Kingdom and that therefore the direct effect that decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union have in the United Kingdom will cease from that point. What is also the case, as spelled out in the Government paper on dispute resolution, is that there are many international examples of arbitration mechanisms that involve different jurisdictions coming together to agree how to take account of their different courts’ views in coming to a settlement when a dispute arises. We are approaching these negotiations in a constructive fashion.
Courts: Victims and Witnesses
11. What steps the Government are taking to improve the court experience for victims and witnesses. 
18. What steps the Government are taking to improve the court experience for victims and witnesses. 
We are testing pre-trial cross-examination for child and vulnerable victims and witnesses in the Crown court, and testing this provision for certain eligible intimidated victims in three Crown court centres this autumn. We have installed remote links in each region and recently completed work on model waiting rooms. We recognise that there are concerns about the operation of the victims’ code, and we are considering how compliance might be monitored and improved.
I welcome that answer. Despite the progress that has been made, attending court as a witness, and particularly as a victim, can still be very stressful. Will my hon. Friend enlarge on what steps the Government are taking to ensure that victims and witnesses know what to expect when they attend court, and that they are treated with respect in court and know when they are required?
We want to use technology to assist all witnesses, not just those who are vulnerable and intimidated. That is why we are exploring ways of making best use of technology, such as video links, to allow witnesses to avoid the stress and/or inconvenience of having to be physically present in the courtroom. We also plan to develop an online tool, which will allow witnesses to access information about a case, such as a trial date, quickly and easily.
Research from Victim Support found that more than half of victims have unwanted contact with the defendant at court. How will the Government’s court reforms ensure that separate entrances, waiting rooms and facilities are standard across all criminal courts?
As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, the Government are investing more than £1 billion to transform and modernise our court systems to make sure they put the needs of victims first. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service recently established model victim and witness waiting rooms at Nottingham justice centre, Manchester magistrates court, Newcastle Crown court, Liverpool Crown court and Aldershot justice centre, drawing on feedback from the Victims’ Commissioner, the Witness Service and court users.
The Minister will be aware that decisions on the support received by police and crime commissioners to work with victims are often made very late in the financial year. Will he consider three-year-long provision, so that services can be provided more efficiently and with greater stability?
There are areas where PCCs are doing very good work and there are areas where the work is perhaps not as successful. I have announced annual awards only because I want to get to grips with the evidence of what works, so that the money can follow that and we can deliver better services for victims.
Prior to the introduction of the Prisons and Courts Bill in the previous Parliament, no research had been carried out into the effects of virtual justice reforms on witnesses—victims or defendants—or the extent of expected savings. Will the Minister guarantee that research into these key areas will be done and published in advance of the Bill being brought back to the House?
We are consulting a variety of different agencies and the Victims’ Commissioner on the work to which the hon. Lady alludes. We are in the process of testing pre-recorded cross-examination at a number of centres across the country.
Several hon. Members rose—
I would not want the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) to feel that he was out of the water in some way. I call Mr Marcus Fysh.
22. Justice delayed can be justice denied. It can also be very distressing for victims and witnesses, such as constituents of mine, to suffer repeated delays in the scheduling and notification of hearing dates and the notification of verdicts, which in some cases have even been learnt from the opposing parties. What can be done to improve court processes and timeframes, and their communication? 
All criminal justice agencies are committed to keeping victims and witnesses informed about their cases. The outcomes of cases involving vulnerable victims and witnesses are available in court systems within 24 hours. Professionals who are involved in a case and are present on the day will know the outcome immediately. If my hon. Friend is aware of details of any other cases in which that may not be happening, will he please write to me? I will then respond.
Prison Officers: Recruitment
12. How many additional prison officers have been newly recruited since January 2017. 
Between the start of January and the end of June 2017, there has been a net increase of 868 new prison officers. That puts us well on track to recruit 2,500 new officers by December 2018.
The Minister will be aware of the major drugs finds and related problems at Holme House prison in my constituency, where experienced officers have left and have been replaced by 18-year-old recruits. Does he really think that recruiting youngsters is the answer when it comes to meeting the needs of our increasing prison population, tackling drugs, and solving the crisis in the Prison Service?
I take issue with the implication behind the hon. Gentleman’s question. We are recruiting new prison officers. We were all inexperienced once, but that did not mean that we were not capable of doing our jobs. I have been to the Newbold Revel training centre; I know that many of our recruits are of the highest calibre, and that the recruitment methods are those that have been used over a number of years. The Opposition did not believe that we could deliver these numbers, but we are delivering them, and I think that the Opposition should be supporting the Government.
As a result of the Government’s excellent policy, a new, modern prison has been built in Wellingborough. Can the Minister tell me how many of the new prison officers will be working there, and when the prison might open? If he cannot do so now, will he write to me, please?
I will certainly write to my hon. Friend. The staffing arrangements at Wellingborough have not been decided yet, but we are very proud, and very keen to be progressive in opening the prison.
The Minister is boasting about the number of prison officers who have been recruited this year, but the Ministry’s own figures show that 35 prisons—a third of the total—have suffered a fall in frontline officer numbers since January this year. Is this another example of what the former director-general of the Prison Service now describes as Ministers
“doing nothing except issue cheery press releases...which suggest all is going precisely to plan”?
It has nothing to do with “cheery press releases”. There are 868 people on the payroll, who have started work in our prisons and are doing a heroic and brave job. We promised to invest £100 million to recruit 2,500 new officers by the end of 2013, and we are on track to deliver that target. Of course there are wider issues in our prison system, such as the retention of officers, but we are working on those. We are also going beyond that, recruiting smart graduates to work on the frontline, and we have exceeded our targets for the Unlocked programme.
Those are not boasts. It was the Opposition who talked prison officers down and said that no one would want to work in our prisons. It is good to see people stepping up to do what is a brave and challenging job.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
My priorities as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State are to uphold and defend the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, and to ensure that our prisons are safe and secure places that also work effectively, and with the probation service, to rehabilitate offenders. That means strengthening the frontline in the way described by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), but it also means that we need to respond better to reports from prison inspectors. I am therefore setting up a new unit, ultimately accountable to Ministers, to ensure that we respond to, and follow up, inspectors’ reports swiftly and effectively.
How many foreign-national offenders are there in our prisons, and why is not more being done to send them to secure detention in their own countries?
As of 30 June this year, there were 6,792 convicted foreign-national offenders serving sentences in our prisons. In 2016-17, we removed 6,177 such offenders from the United Kingdom—that is including prisoner transfers—and that is the highest number since records began.
I hope the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) will shortly reissue his textbook for colleagues on succinct questions.
This summer I was proud to sign up to the campaign launched by Gina Martin to change the law so that the disgraceful practice of so-called upskirting is made a specific sexual offence. So will the Minister finally join with us today in backing this call for a change in the law?
I have taken very seriously the representations made not only by Gina Martin, but by some of the police and crime commissioners around the country. I have asked for detailed advice on this, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand that, before proceeding to a commitment to legislation, I want to be absolutely certain that this would be the right course to take.
T3. Legal services in the UK are rightly held in the highest regard around the world and are a major asset to our economy. What is the Minister doing to ensure that we champion and defend the interests of the legal sector in this country? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: legal services exports contribute a trade surplus of £3.4 billion to the UK economy. The UK is a global leader in dispute settlement. We are working with the sector to promote this key comparative advantage. It is a priority for the Brexit negotiations, and, as a global leader, this is the message my ministerial colleague Lord Keen will be taking to the International Bar Association conference in Australia just next month.
T2. Last week a report from the committee of the United Nations made 60 recommendations to the Government on how they could better comply with the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. How will the Government respond, and what changes in Government policy can disabled people expect to see as a result? 
It is obviously for the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work and the Department for Work and Pensions to decide overall on the Government response to that report. However, I think that the Government were right to express disappointment that the report failed to acknowledge the significant advances this Government have made in improving the lot of disabled people in this country, not least in seeing a record number of people with disabilities now in employment.
T5. What upgrades have been achieved in prisons since we came into office, and how are we going to rehabilitate prisoners even further? 
I assume my hon. Friend is referring to the upgrades in the prison estate, where we are investing £1.3 billion to modernise the estate. As part of that, we will be building 10,000 modern prison places. That should help with offender rehabilitation. In terms of where we are now, we have started with the proposed developments at Glen Parva and HMP Wellingborough, and we have also announced plans to build four new prisons: in Yorkshire, adjacent to Full Sutton; at Port Talbot in Wales; and the redevelopment of the young offender institutions at Rochester and Hindley.
T4. Given the problems the Department has had when it has privatised many of its services, it seems extraordinary that there are now plans to privatise the collection of court fines and outsource the work of civil enforcement officers. When will the Government appreciate that the public expect these sensitive public services to be delivered by the public, not a bunch of cowboys? 
What the public expect is for those fines to be collected in the most efficient and effective way possible.
T9. Can the Minister update me on when the revised version of practice direction 12J will be adopted and how the Government will ensure that judges and magistrates are aware of the change in order to improve guidance for judges overseeing child contact cases with allegations of domestic abuse? 
We are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to improve the treatment of victims in the justice system. In relation to the practice direction to which my hon. Friend refers, we expect to receive the revised version from the president of the family division for ministerial agreement by the end of this month.
T6. Since the election, hundreds of constituents have contacted me about our current animal cruelty laws, which are not fit for purpose. A maximum prison sentence of six months for some of the most appalling crimes, including torturing a dog to death, is completely unacceptable. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the sentencing guidelines are rigorously reviewed and strengthened? 
I share the hon. Lady’s desire to see the most robust sentences for animal cruelty. The Government keep the sentencing framework under regular review, and I am not sure whether she is aware that in January the Sentencing Council published new guidelines on relevant aggravating factors in animal cruelty cases.
In the past 18 months, three of my constituents have died in HMP Bristol, which has one of the highest numbers of self-inflicted deaths in custody. What reassurance can be provided that that prison is being given the scrutiny and support that it needs to get those figures down?
Every death in custody is a tragedy, and I offer my condolences to the families of my hon. Friend’s constituents. We have increased the staffing level at HMP Bristol by 31 prison officers in the past year. I chair a weekly safer custody meeting with officials to drive forward improvements, and I review the details of every self-inflicted death to see how we might prevent others. We have also launched an internal review of our approach to safer custody, specifically in relation to mental health patients, and I would be willing to visit my hon. Friend’s prison in order to deal with this further.
T7. Last week, a Tory peer said that Brexit was a good thing because our young people would be able to work longer hours. Can the Minister confirm that his Government will continue to guarantee protections for workers in accordance with the European working time directive? 
The Prime Minister could not have been clearer: we are committed to the best possible employment conditions for all British workers. We have a fine record of achievement on that, and we will ensure that when we leave the EuropeanUnion, there is no diminution in workers’ rights.
In January last year, an Afghan national who had previously served time for murder in the Netherlands attacked two Crawley police officers with a clawhammer. Recently, the Court of Appeal has reduced his sentence. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Sussex Police Federation’s requests to the Home Office will ensure that he is deported at the earliest opportunity?
I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that the views of the Police Federation and others in his constituency will be conveyed fully to the Home Office. It remains the Government’s collective will to ensure that those foreign national offenders who merit deportation are deported as soon as possible after serving their sentence.
T8. Is the Minister aware that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recommended that the protections afforded by the EU charter of fundamental rights be retained in the UK? What is he going to do about that? 
I am always bewildered by the approach of the Opposition to the charter. When Labour was in power, it claimed, rather fraudulently, that it was seeking an opt-out, but now that it is out of office and we are leaving the EU, it wants to opt back in. We have the strongest protections for human rights in this country, and they have been reinforced. We are going to see no diminution in those protections, but the charter adds uncertainty and is frankly surplus to requirements.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the pilot scheme that allowed the filming of judges’ sentencing remarks in criminal courts has been a success? Will he now consider going further in allowing the broadcasting of court proceedings, so that justice is not just done but seen to be done?
We have made considerable progress in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, and my right hon. Friend is right to say that one of the areas under review is the broadcasting of judges’ sentencing remarks in the Crown court. Last year, we conducted not-for-broadcast tests in eight Crown court centres, and we are looking at the experience from those trials with the judiciary in order to see how best to proceed.
T10. Last year, 316 people died in our prisons. Emails from prison doctors printed in the media a few days ago say that there are not enough medical staff in our prisons and that urgent hospital referrals are being cancelled because of prison escort shortages. What are the Justice Secretary and the Health Secretary planning to do to tackle this growing healthcare crisis in custody? 
We are very conscious that the Government have a duty of care to everyone we hold in custody. We are working with the Department of Health on a number of protocols, including some relating to mental health, as well as working to ensure that prisoners get access to the healthcare that they need, when they need it.
Will Ministers give the House their response to Lord Farmer’s recent report on the importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to reduce reoffending?
Lord Farmer’s report is excellent. Family ties are important not only to help people to turn their lives around, but to improve stability in prisons. We will publish our response in due course and will make the House aware of that.
While I welcome the Minister’s news about increased prison officer numbers in HMP Bristol in my constituency, I am concerned by the Department’s figures, which show that 1,770 experienced prison officers left the service last year. What is the Minister doing urgently to retain valuable experienced prison officers for the longer term?
It is always the case that people will leave an organisation voluntarily or due to retirement or—[Interruption.] May I finish my point? In some cases, people may leave because they have not been too happy with what has been happening in our Prison Service. A retention plan is available, but the numbers that I gave earlier—868 net new prison officers so far this year—take account of people leaving the service, so we are actually up on last year’s figures.
Having recently met the governor of Styal prison in my constituency, I know that drones are an increasing problem in prisons, as is the illegal use of mobile phones. The two are linked because mobile phones allow for greater frequency and accuracy of drone activity. Does the Minister agree that the way to curb drone activity and stop illegal mobile phone use is to block phone signals in prison? Will he support my private Member’s Bill to do that? The Second Reading is on 1 December.
I fully support my right hon. Friend’s Bill. It is what we need to deal with the illegal use of mobile phones, which are used to carry on criminal activity from behind bars.
The Minister’s plans to build a prison on the Baglan industrial park in my constituency are causing a huge amount of concern and disquiet within the community. May I urge the Minister to come to the public meeting that I have organised on 20 September in Baglan to explain the position to the community?
The hon. Gentleman is aware that Ministers do not attend public consultation events about obtaining planning permission for new prisons. He is also aware that the Port Talbot site was proposed alongside several other sites by the Welsh Government, who continue to support us in redeveloping the site for the purpose of the new prison. I have received his representations on behalf of his constituents—he is diligent and persistent—and we also had a meeting on 12 July. Subject to the two-day consultation, which is more than would ordinarily happen, I am willing to engage further with him on what could be done to ameliorate his constituents’ concerns.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. We often have time for the questions but rather less time for the answers, which tend to take up rather more time.
Will the Secretary of State look at how families are treated by the insurance industry when a householder gets a criminal conviction? The Salvation Army recently highlighted several cases in which insurance had either been denied or made prohibitively expensive in a way that seems to me, as a former chartered insurer, to be neither reasonable nor necessary.
I am happy to look at that and would welcome a conversation with my hon. Friend to examine the matter further.
With exemplary brevity, Ann Clwyd.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Given the historical child abuse in north Wales, will Ministers now place in the Library the unredacted copy of Lady Macur’s report on the Waterhouse inquiry, which relates to many of the children involved?
The honest answer is that I am not familiar with the detail as to why an unredacted copy has not been published, but I will undertake to ask for urgent advice on that and will write to the right hon. Lady.
I will call the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) if he confines himself to a short sentence.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the work of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice, who will have retired by the next Justice questions, both for his integrity as a judge and for his modernising work as head of the judiciary in England and Wales?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in his salute to Lord Thomas, who has been a formidable and exemplary leader of the professional judiciary. What has struck me in the short time that I have held my office is the enormous respect and affection in which Lord Thomas is held by his colleagues on the judicial bench. I am sure the entire House will want to wish him all the best.
In the last Parliament, a joint report of the Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee found widespread exploitation of women at work, and especially of young women in vulnerable employment. Now that the barrier of fees has been removed, will the Minister look seriously at the report’s recommendations and work with other Departments to ensure that women are aware of their access to justice?
As I explained earlier, we will take into account all the recommendations and findings of the Select Committee report as we chart the way forward.
Did the Secretary of State read the letter in the press by the widow of our late colleague, Ian Gow, contrasting the fact that the two IRA murderers suspected of killing him have no fear of arrest with the recent revelation that hundreds, if not thousands, of letters are being sent out to veterans of the troubles with a view to further prosecutions? Will he support the policy of a statute of limitations to put an end to this grotesque inequality of treatment?
The answer to my right hon. Friend’s question is that, yes, I did read the letter to which he refers. Those matters, as he knows, are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is very concerned to ensure that a proper examination of the past, and a search for the truth about the past, does not lead to the unfair and disproportionate arraignment of British soldiers who stood firmly for democracy and human rights in Northern Ireland.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am afraid that we are well out of time, but we will hear Shabana Mahmood.
The Minister will be aware of the serious disorder at HMP Birmingham in my constituency on Sunday, which follows the very serious riot in December 2016 and serious incidents at other prisons across the country over the summer months. Clearly our prisons are in absolute crisis. Is it not time that we had an independent inquiry into the state of our prisons?
We have already said that the level of violence in our prisons is too high. I spoke to the Gold Commander at HMP Birmingham on Sunday night, and we should first praise the professionalism of the Prison Service in dealing with what are very difficult and very challenging situations in our prisons. Of course, a key part of dealing with the stability and security problem in our prisons is increasing the staffing levels, on which there has been a number of questions today, and we are doing so. A wider part of the reforms is dealing with drones, mobile phones and illegal drugs, and it will take time to do that, but I praise our prison officers for their brave work in containing these disturbances.
Violence in Rakhine State
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent violence in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) for raising this matter and giving the Government the opportunity to detail the significant action we have taken. Overnight on 24 August, members of the Rohingya militant group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army—the ARSA—attacked numerous police posts in northern Rakhine. Even in the days prior to that escalation of hostilities, our embassy in Rangoon had been monitoring the situation very carefully, including travelling to the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe. We understand that tens of thousands of people have crossed the border into Bangladesh.
Kofi Annan’s Rakhine advisory commission report was published immediately prior to the attacks. The Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), and I issued a joint statement at that time welcoming the report, but also condemning the attacks by Rohingya militants on Burmese security forces. At the same time, the UK strongly urged the security forces in Rakhine to show restraint and called for all parties to de-escalate the tensions.
On 30 August, at the UK’s request, the UN Security Council discussed the situation in Rakhine. Our UK representative in New York led the condemnation of attacks by Rohingya militants, and urged a measured and proportionate response from the security forces. We also called for humanitarian aid to reach those in need as soon as possible and offered UK support for the Rakhine advisory commission, encouraging the international community to do likewise. The recent violence serves to underline how important it is to address the long-term issues in Rakhine and deliver for all communities; it should not deflect the Burmese Government from the key task of addressing the underlying issues that have caused people to flee. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, it is vital that the civilian Government of Burma receive the support of the Burmese military, and that Aung San Suu Kyi is not thwarted in her attempts to stabilise the situation.
Along with de-escalating the fighting, our immediate priority is how urgent food and medical assistance can be provided to displaced citizens from all communities. Our ambassador in Rangoon has rightly been lobbying the Burmese Government on that, and they have confirmed that they are trying to get humanitarian aid through to communities most in need. As many will know, that is being hampered by the security situation and by inter-communal tensions.
Our high commissioner in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has also discussed the increasingly acute humanitarian situation with the Government there, and I discussed the situation with the Bangladeshi high commissioner last week. I look forward to discussing these issues further tomorrow at a meeting arranged some weeks ago with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), the co-chair of the all-party group on Burma, as well as to paying a ministerial visit to Burma in the near future.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. I am a little disappointed by the Minister’s response, as he started by suggesting that somehow the Rohingya Muslims and these people had caused this to occur. He must be aware that for a number of years there has been the systematic rape, murder, burning and beheading of people from the Rohingya community. If it is suggested that there may have been some attacks on the police stations, that is not a sufficient reason to attempt almost to explain away what the Burmese Government are now doing to these people. Everyone knows that for years now that the Government, the security forces and the Buddhist monks have been ransacking and killing people—murdering and raping women and children. This is only a climax to the brutality that the Burmese have been carrying out against these people.
Is the Minister aware that because of what has happened recently, many young children have been beheaded and civilians have been burned alive by the military forces? Is he aware that 120,000 Rohingya have fled for their lives to Bangladesh? Will he actually condemn this campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims? Is he aware that Human Rights Watch has satellite imagery showing the destruction of entire Rohingya villages, and that there are reports of people there being rounded up into huts and burned alive? Recent reports also show a massive cover-up by the soldiers who have carried out massacres of Rohingya, by gathering their bodies up and burning them.
This is one of the worst outbreaks of violence in decades, yet the international community is, in effect, remaining silent as we watch another Srebrenica and Rwanda unfold before our eyes. Does the Minister agree that the situation requires urgent intervention? What concrete action have the Government and the Prime Minister taken to date to deal with it? Is he aware that UN aid and monitors have not been allowed in? Will the Government make further representations to the UN Security Council about the ethnic cleansing now taking place? Can consideration be given to an immediate intervention by the UN Security Council to deal with this situation? As journalist Peter Oborne said in this morning’s Daily Mail:
“The Rohingya people were loyal allies of Britain in World War II. Now they face their darkest hour.”
We must take immediate action to help them, and I am very sorry about, and disappointed in, the Minister’s starting response.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady is so disappointed; had she heard what I had to say, it would have been clear that we have been monitoring this situation for some time. Indeed, through diplomatic sources, we have made sure that our heartfelt concerns have been heard. It was thanks to a British lead that the issue was discussed at the UN over the past week. One has to remember that obviously a huge amount of attention has been given to issues relating to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which the House will discuss later.
The hon. Lady asked precisely what we are now doing. It is worth pointing out some aspects of the humanitarian aid we are going to put in place. As she is well aware, the UK has rightly and proudly been one of the largest development and humanitarian donors to Burma, and particularly to the Rakhine state, over many years. Since 2012, the Department for International Development has provided more than £30 million in humanitarian assistance, including for food and sanitation, for more than 126,000 people. More important, given the unfolding situation, the UK is the largest single bilateral donor supporting displaced Rohingya refugees and the vulnerable communities that host them in Bangladesh. DFID has allocated some £20.9 million for humanitarian aid responses between 2017 and 2022.
Because of the acute nature of the problems, to which the hon. Lady referred, we will keep an eye on exactly what happens. Please rest assured that the Government will do all they can to condemn when condemnation is the right way forward, but she is well aware that the politics of Burma are incredibly tense and difficult. We have hopefully moved away from a 55-year period of military rule. As far as we can, the international community should support civilian rule under Aung San Suu Kyi.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. There is substantial interest in this question, which I am keen—up to a point—to accommodate, but colleagues will be aware that there are three ministerial statements to follow, in which there can be expected to be substantial interest. Colleagues from Back and Front Benches alike need to help me to help them. There will be a premium upon brevity, now to be brilliantly exemplified by Mr Tom Tugendhat.
How is my right hon. Friend’s relationship with China going? As we all remember, the Chinese influence in the seeking of a peace agreement in some of the northern areas of Burma was instrumental in delivering humanitarian effects like those we wish to achieve in the Rakhine state. Will he say a little more about the Bangladeshi Government, and perhaps praise them for their extraordinary work in welcoming so many Muslim Rohingya people? I welcome the Foreign Office’s efforts in supporting that work.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I was in Beijing only 10 days ago; he will appreciate that attention was focused largely on the DPRK and, to an extent, issues relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan. I suspect we will have a chance before too long to discuss the issues relating to Burma with counterparts in China. I echo my hon. Friend’s words about the Bangladeshi authorities, with whom I had a strong relationship as a member and officer of the all-party group on Bangladesh for some seven years before I took up ministerial office. He is absolutely right that a terrific amount of work has taken place, and it will continue to take place in what is a fraught situation.
The vast majority of Rohingyas want nothing but peace, but it is they who have suffered most as a result of the violence committed, supposedly in their name, by a small number of armed militants. Because of so-called collective punishment for such attacks, more than 100,000 innocent Rohingya men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes in a campaign that UN officials say may amount to ethnic cleansing. Many displaced Rohingyas have ended up in squalid camps, and, according to UN figures published today, some 35,000 have fled across the border to Bangladesh in the past 24 hours alone. There, and in Myanmar itself, these families are in desperate need of our aid.
I am sure the Minister will share the deep disappointment of many Members of this House at the failure of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar’s civilian Government, to speak out more forcefully against human rights abuses in Rakhine. It is, though, General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, who of course bears ultimate responsibility for the army’s atrocities. It is he who ultimately must be held to account.
The Minister must do more than express disappointment, important though that is. The Government must do everything they can to help to bring an end to this senseless violence. Ministers must set clear and unambiguous red lines for Myanmar’s authorities—civilian and military—when it comes to respecting human rights. If those red lines are crossed, there should be consequences. For instance, in the light of recent events, it seems wholly inappropriate that in the past three years this Government have sold weapons worth more than half a million pounds to the Government of Myanmar.
Will the Minister now accept that his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence demonstrated shockingly poor judgment in spending a quarter of a million pounds—from the aid budget no less—on training members of Myanmar’s army? Will he also accept that it was a serious error of judgment for the Minister of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), to say by way of explanation that such programmes ensure that other countries learn about British values and human rights?
Does the Minister agree that it simply cannot be right for Britain to continue to provide military aid to a country where human rights abuses are so rampant? If he accepts that, will he demonstrate his Government’s commitment to the Rohingya people by immediately suspending military aid until Myanmar’s army can demonstrate that it is both able and willing to protect the rights of all the country’s citizens?
I thank the hon. Lady for her heartfelt comments. Those issues, which are clearly for the Ministry of Defence, will be under review, and I will ensure that her comments are passed on and that she is kept up to date. Contrary to some of the press reports, I think it is important to clarify precisely what the UK does provide. We do not provide any form of combat training to the Burmese military. The UK provides vocational courses, focused on language training, governance, accountability, ethics, human rights and international law. The UK rightly believes in using elements of our DFID money on programmes of real and lasting change. Such change will only come about from engaging with the Burmese military. Exposing them to how modern militaries operate in a democracy is more effective than isolating them. The content of the educational courses that we provide—the hon. Lady referred to a quarter of a million pounds—complies entirely with the UK’s commitments under the EU arms embargo.
There is more that the Government can do as a convening force, bringing together the countries that are involved with the Rohingya. There are problems not just in Rakhine or in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, but with the hideous trafficking of the Rohingya people down through Thailand and into Malaysia. Given the goodwill that we have in Bangladesh and Burma and, to a lesser extent, in Thailand and Malaysia, will the Foreign Office consider convening a meeting to look at this issue and at how we can improve the lives of these people?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his words. I know that he, having held the post that I now hold, has a lot of knowledge of the area. As I pointed out in my initial comments, after the violence broke out on 25 August, the UK, as a matter of urgency, spoke out and took a lead not just in issuing statements but in ensuring that we had a UN Security Council discussion on 30 August—at a time when the UN was looking at other matters. He is absolutely right to suggest that this situation must be looked at in the context of Malaysia and of other neighbouring states in the region, and not just in the context of Bangladesh. Our ambassador has lobbied the Burmese Government, and our high commission in Dhaka has also discussed the situation with the Government of Bangladesh. We will continue to keep a close eye on developments. I hope that we can do that partly through the UN and other international bodies. My right hon. Friend’s suggestion that the UK brings things together is something that, uniquely, we have some authority to do. I hope that we shall do so if there is any escalation of the situation in the weeks ahead.
The recent violence in Rakhine state and the long-standing persecution of the Rohingya are appalling and must end immediately. In the past two weeks alone, some 120,000 refugees have fled the violence in Rakhine state, and the two main UN camps in Bangladesh are now overflowing. We ask the Government and the military of Myanmar to remove all restrictions on entry to Rakhine state for the media, aid agencies and non-governmental organisations, as the world must be allowed to see what is happening and to help people in need.
While attacks by Rohingya militants are not to be condoned, the Government and military of Myanmar have a responsibility to protect civilians in all communities from violence and displacement, and they must begin to do so immediately. Will the Minister therefore make a commitment to work immediately with the UN and the Bangladeshi Government to provide urgent aid, food and water to refugees both inside and outside the camps?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words. He will appreciate that I have already touched on some of the issues in relation to Bangladesh.
I, too, am concerned on behalf of the UK Government that Burma has dissociated itself from elements of the fact-finding mission to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Following the last set of attacks in October 2016, the UK co-sponsored a resolution at the Human Rights Council setting up a fact-finding mission to look into the human rights situation in Burma. We will continue forcefully to urge Burma to co-operate with the mission and its mandate, and as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the more the world sees what is going on, particularly on the border of Bangladesh and Burma, the more urgent attention we can give to the Burmese authorities to ensure that this terrible humanitarian crisis comes to a close at the earliest opportunity.
We must acknowledge the wrongdoings of the minority armed group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, but the disproportionate response has escalated violence and enflamed a long-running human rights problem. It has also left other states such as Bangladesh, as we have heard, to carry a significant burden. Does the Minister agree that we should recognise the pivotal role that Aung San Suu Kyi plays in bringing democracy to what remains a fragile country, but if we are ever to get back to talking about democratic structures, trade, healthcare and education in that country we need a long-standing solution that will work to bring the human rights crisis to an end, so that the Rohingya Muslims can live peacefully? Will the Minister outline what we are doing, so that we can cope without UK aid for the increasing numbers of people who are fleeing to Bangladesh?
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that he does, both as an officer of the all-party group on Burma and for Bangladesh. He will be aware that the 2008 constitution in Burma grants the military 25% of seats in Parliament as well as control of defence, border affairs and home affairs Ministries. That situation has entrenched the role of the security forces since the coup in 1962 and makes it difficult for life to have any normality as we understand it. In that context, we have to recognise the amazingly courageous behaviour of leader Aung San Suu Kyi. I can understand the disappointment of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), but we have to look at this in the context of Aung San Suu Kyi trying to play a role that has made life better for many Burmese citizens—not, I accept, for the Rohingya population down in the south-west.
Imagine the situation if there were another coup d’état and Aung San Suu Kyi was removed from the scene, and we went back to fully fledged military rule. That would be a calamitous outcome for the Burmese people. We need to do all that we can to support the moves, slow as they are, towards some sort of democracy as we would understand it in Burma. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) rightly said, the role of Aung San Suu Kyi and her international standing is critical in ensuring that some sort of normality comes to pass in the years to come.
I welcome the Minister’s remarks, because it is incongruous and incomprehensible that Aung San Suu Kyi, for so long a beacon for human rights, has not stepped in to intervene in the face of an horrendous military crackdown that has burned down 17 villages and left 250,000 people without access to food. What is his assessment of the power struggles between the Burmese Government and the military, and how can we best help those who wish to uphold human rights to gain the upper hand?
I thank the hon. Lady for her words. As she says, the one person many British folk with relatively little knowledge or experience of Burma remember is Aung San Suu Kyi, so they are dismayed. It is worth pointing out the sectarian complexities of Burmese society, along with the lack of democracy as we would understand it for over five decades, as that plays an important role in the concerns that the hon. Lady has expressed.
After the most recent escalation in Rakhine state, a number of statements were released by the Burmese information office. I have to say that these were not released with the consent of, or directly by, Aung San Suu Kyi. The information office is run by a former military officer. We understand that the State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, has now removed her name from that office. That gives some indication of the level of tensions and the complexity of what is going on in Burma.
May I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) on the tone and manner of her question, associate myself with the direction of her interrogation of the Minister and gently say how disappointed I was with the Minister’s tone, which sounded pretty close to dumping the blame for this ethnic cleansing on the victim community? Will he say a little more about our expectations of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is leading a Government and military forces who are associated with behaviour that is utterly unacceptable by any standard at all?
I am sorry that my hon. Friend chooses to use the opportunity to grandstand in the way that he does—[Interruption.] The House has voted on that matter already, as we know. As far as this matter is concerned, we have made it very clear that we feel that Aung San Suu Kyi and her Government need to step up to the plate. We are not in any way forgiving or understanding of the terrible violence and its impact. It is worth pointing out that the entrenched security forces, including the army, police and border guard force, are responsible for the security operations that are currently under way in Rakhine state. We have made that absolutely clear. We will support Burma’s ongoing transition from military dictatorship to a civilian-led democracy. This is very much an ongoing process, led by the democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi.
The appalling persecution of the Rohingya is long standing and well documented. I concur with the remarks of the former Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt); I was very disappointed with the statement made in response to the urgent question.
I have two questions for the Minister. On aid, reports today suggest that 30,000 Rohingyas are stranded in the mountains between Bangladesh and Burma. What is being done to address that in practical terms? There has to be a political solution in the long term. Does the Minister agree with the Nobel laureate, Malala, who yesterday appealed to Aung San Suu Kyi, saying that the citizenship of Myanmar has to be given to the Rohingya, so that they cease to be stateless people?
The hon. Gentleman will recognise just how complicated the situation with the Rohingya is. I suspect that the matter has been in his in-tray throughout his time as Chair of the Select Committee on International Development. In fairness, we are trying our best to get reliable information on the ground, which is difficult, as he will appreciate. We understand that 123,000 people have fled from Burma into Bangladesh. He may well be right that there are tens of thousands more in some halfway house, not able to make their way but desperate to do so.
I have tried to point out that we are not standing by innocently. We are doing all we can. In many ways, Britain has taken a lead at the UN, which will ultimately be the body that will have to deal, to a large extent, with elements of this humanitarian crisis. It is also worth pointing out that we have to be realistic about the manner in which the UN operates. The Security Council will require a unanimous vote or at least no veto. It is very difficult to see how, even within the P5, we would be able to get that for the reasons alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat).
These are difficult issues. We have done all we can and will continue to do so on the ground in Rangoon and—probably even more importantly in the months and years ahead—in Dhaka. We will do our bit and more to ensure that the humanitarian aspects of this crisis are kept to an absolute minimum.
Over 120,000 Rohingyas have been displaced and 17 villages have been torched, with thousands of deaths. Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that Aung San Suu Kyi is yet to live up to her Nobel peace prize, call out what is fast becoming a genocide and assist Rohingyas fleeing persecution?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. I have tried to explain the situation as it applies to statements that were put out in Aung San Suu Kyi’s name that did not reflect her views on these matters. As I have said, there is disappointment for many people; there was a sense that the moment Aung San Suu Kyi came into office—only a year ago—somehow everything would be transformed. The issues in Burma are, I am afraid, considerably more complex than that. It is vital that we do as much as we can to support Aung San Suu Kyi and the transition—slow as it may be—towards a fully fledged democracy. There remains a huge amount of good will for her work, which will be critical if we are to get any sort of resolution to these terrible events in the months ahead.
In the Minister’s last conversation with the trade envoy to Burma, did he raise the humanitarian crisis?
I thank the hon. Lady. Yes, I did. Obviously, this is a fluid situation. The trade envoy will be heading out to Burma again before too long, as well as to other parts of the world. Let us be honest about it: as far as Burma is concerned, the issues around trade are entirely secondary to the humanitarian issues to which she referred. It is perfectly legitimate for those on the Opposition Front Bench to make the statements they did about past trade in weaponry and the like, but, equally, we are now in a very different, much more critical humanitarian situation. The hon. Lady can rest assured that, as far as our diplomats on both sides of the Bangladesh-Burma border are concerned, the focus will be exclusively on humanitarian rather than trade issues.
I raise this as a genuine point to the Minister. Having looked at civilian transitions from military Governments in other parts of the world, will he say today whether, according to his moral conscience, Aung San Suu Kyi has done enough to challenge the mass murder of Rohingyas in Burma?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. The truth of the matter is that we do not know precisely what is going on. That is one of the difficulties about Burmese society and the complexities around the Burmese political and military situation. Just what is happening out there is difficult to gauge. I have obviously spoken to our ambassador in Rangoon. He has reassured me that representations are being made on a regular basis. My understanding from what he has said is that the concerns my hon. Friend pointed out are being felt in the very highest ranks of the Burmese Government. So there is no suggestion, to my mind at least, that Aung San Suu Kyi has been guilty of anything other than keeping a very close eye on what is a desperate situation. However, the notion that she has full control over what happens in the military, particularly down in Rakhine, is, I am afraid, a long way from the reality of the situation in Burma and Burmese politics.
I participated in the induction programme for the new Parliament last year, and I appreciate the challenges facing Burma as it transitions towards democracy. I also appreciate the efforts made by the UK Government and Parliament—let us not overlook its role—in supporting that democratic development. Surely, though, it is vital that the UK Government and this Parliament continually restate their belief that citizenship for the Rohingya is an essential part of that transition.
I thank the hon. Lady for her words. Prior to taking on this role, I was vice-chairman for international affairs in the Conservative party and worked with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and although I did not specifically do work myself in Burma, I am well aware that a lot of work goes on in a cross-party, integrated programme. Yes, I accept that the citizenship issue is live. As the hon. Lady will be well aware, the sectarian divisions are very pronounced in that part of the world. As many will know, there was a suggestion that when Burma was formed in the aftermath of the second world war or when Bangladesh was formed in 1971, the Rohingya, as ethnic Bengalis, should have been in that part of the world. I fear that all those are very live issues in Burmese politics. They are very complicated issues for us to entirely make a judgment on, but that is not to say that there will not be an open debate on them from our diplomats on the ground.
My right hon. Friend the Minister is right to say that it must be difficult to get reliable and accurate information on the ground, in which case his offer of a ministerial visit should come sooner rather than later. When he goes, will he make sure that he visits both sides of the border, with a particular emphasis on following the DFID aid stream to satisfy himself that our aid is getting to where it is needed?
Yes, I am obviously keen to see on the ground what is happening throughout Burma and also Bangladesh, which is a country I know well. I should perhaps point out that the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), is the Minister with DFID responsibilities in this regard. He visited only a matter of a few weeks ago and saw what was happening before the latest outbreak of inter-communal ethnic violence. He has been confident that there has been a positive flow of DFID money for a whole range of different projects, both in Bangladesh and in Burma. A lot of the DFID money that is spent, and will continue to be spent, in that regard is on much broader infrastructure and other projects that are going to make life better for all Burmese. That is not for one minute to say that we should not be focusing attention now on some humanitarian aid, but there is a huge amount of aid that this country can rightly be proud of in that part of the world that is making life better, and will do so for all citizens, for the decades to come.
Despite the extensive support— economic, cultural and political—that we have given to the Myanmar Government, we are now seeing that the Rohingya community is in danger of genocide. Does the Minister agree that we need to ask that Government for three things? First, the Government security forces need to be brought under control. Secondly, the aid organisations need to have free access there. Thirdly, the key thing is that the Rohingya need to be recognised as full citizens of Burma.
The hon. Gentleman’s comments will be passed on; they will be heard not just here but in Rangoon. We are making representations at a diplomatic level. It is difficult, given the political situation there, to make demands, in the way that he perhaps suggests, about the role or otherwise of the military, or indeed any demands about Rohingya citizenship. However, he can rest assured that the concerns addressed to this House today will be made very clear.
You will be aware, Mr Speaker, of the Burmese army’s six-year campaign against the Rohingya Muslims in Kachin and Rakhine provinces, during which 100,000 civilians have already been forced to flee their homes under very repressive laws and are unable to work freely. The UN has said that war crimes have been committed, yet nobody has been held accountable. This looks like the ethnic cleansing that is the precursor to genocide, with stateless citizens who cannot be counted, meaning that their bodies cannot be counted either. We need our Foreign Secretary and the Minister to say unequivocally that we want full humanitarian access, that we want the violence to end and that we want to end the culture of impunity that allows these people to be murdered and nobody brought to justice.
I concur with the hon. Lady. As well as the condemnation to which she refers, we will do our best to get that message across through the international community. One hopes that not just British Ministers but Ministers from across the globe will make that clear, on a bilateral basis but also at the UN. Any judgment on whether crimes under international law have occurred is evidently a matter for judicial determination rather than for Governments or non-judicial bodies. We will continue, however, to call for an end to the violence and to prevent escalation, irrespective of whether incidents fit the definition of specific international crimes to which she referred.
I note the significant humanitarian aid that the Minister has set out, but will the Government continue to urge foreign Governments to follow suit?
We work in partnership through the UN and through other international bodies. It is worth pointing out that we should be proud of our own expenditure, particularly in that part of the world. Bangladesh is a member of the Commonwealth and Burma was at one time part of India, so there are long-standing connections between our countries. Although one hopes that the international community will also take on some of the burden, we recognise through our DFID commitments that we have particular responsibilities and connections in that part of the world. Although I hope that we will do a lot on an international basis, I do not think we should be frightened by the fact that Britain may well, initially, very much take the lead in humanitarian aid.
We need to appreciate that the sustained discrimination against, and killing of, Rohingya Muslims has been ongoing for years. To their credit, Bangladesh and other nations have attempted to accommodate and assist Rohingya refugees. Surely, the de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, of all people, should respect the rights of all, especially minorities. Extraordinary respect and honour were accorded to her by our Parliament for her own long struggle for democracy. Has the Minister reminded her of this, and of the urgent need to stop the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in her country? Will the Minister also confirm whether the Myanmar Government will be taking any positive steps openly to encourage the Rohingya back to their own country?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his heartfelt comments. He will appreciate that the diplomatic process means that a lot of attention is being paid in Burma to the nature of the debate; that is probably unique among other Parliaments in which there is a passion for issues concerning Burma. To be fair, it is too early to talk in terms of commitments about the Rohingya being brought back to Burma at any point. One issue will be whether many of them wish to return to Burma, even once the situation begins to stabilise. He will forgive me if I say that this is something to which we will return at a future stage.
I am keen to accommodate colleagues, but there is a premium on single questions. I look for a rapier inquiry to that intellectual colossus from Newham, Mr Stephen Timms.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister urge the Government of Myanmar to review—or, preferably, repeal—the 1982 citizenship law so that Rohingya Muslims can be granted citizenship of the country where they have always lived?
This is a live debate, and we will continue to make representations such as that which the right hon. Gentleman has made. He is well aware of the difficulties that face us in our relationship with Burma, which will regard this as largely an internal matter. It is not for us to dictate that on an international agenda, but his voice has been heard loud and clear, and this is not the only time that such an issue has been raised. We will do our level best to make sure that, apart from anything else, Bangladeshi citizens who live on the border are properly represented.
Some 90,000 Rohingya are estimated to have fled to Bangladesh. What help can the Minister give to the displaced who now live in the open and in forests, without tents or food? Bangladesh cannot afford to keep them and wishes them to leave.
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that DFID is already the biggest single donor of bilateral aid to Bangladesh. We will continue to do as much work as we can, without in any way prejudicing important existing projects, particularly infrastructure projects, which have been under way for some time. He can rest assured that we have significant equities and significant expertise on the ground, particularly around the Cox’s Bazar area, which is the district adjacent to the Burmese border. I very much hope that those will come into play, and I suspect that that work is already going on as we speak.
May I press the Minister further on his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg)? The Minister says it is very difficult to find out what is going on in Burma, but is it so difficult or is it that we do not believe the reports? I have a report from the Burma Human Rights Network, which specifies that 30,000 Rohingya are trapped on the hillsides in Tha Win Chaung and Inn Din near Maungdaw township. These people are trapped without food, water and medicine. What is the Minister doing to find out what is going on? Frankly, if 30,000 people are trapped in such a situation, they cannot await a ministerial visit.
No one was suggesting that knowing about such a situation would be dependent on a ministerial visit. We are working on the ground, but we do need to verify the facts. I accept what the hon. Lady says and there is no sense of disbelief in what an NGO says—NGOs on the ground are working hard, including with DFID and other parts of the UK Government apparatus—but we need to verify the facts before making such statements. However, she should rest assured that a significant amount of work is going on, on both sides of the Burmese-Bangladeshi border, as we speak.
When the Minister has finally clarified the facts, will he condemn as genocide what everybody else believes to be genocide? What is the value of having a democratic dialogue if the result is the persecution and massacre of a whole group of people?
As the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, our immediate priority has been to establish the facts, but it has also been to ensure that we provide urgent food and medical assistance to as many displaced citizens as we can. As I say, we are at the forefront of that.
On making any judgment about whether crimes have occurred under international law—this goes back to the issue discussed earlier—that is really a matter for judicial determination, not something that we should condemn here as politicians. Whether that is done through the UN—through a UN Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court, for example—lies some steps ahead. None the less, this must ultimately be a legal, rather than a political, intervention. As a P5 Member of the United Nations, we have obviously taken that particular aspect very seriously. As I pointed out in my initial comments, over a week ago we began the process of asking the UN to take seriously the issues that I fear have only deteriorated further in the past few days.
The Minister keeps repeating that the situation in Burma is very complex; I think we know that. What is really disturbing for those of us who went to listen to Aung San Suu Kyi and were so moved by her speech is that it seems that not only is she not doing anything, but she is not actually saying anything. In view of our relationship with the country and with her, does the Minister not think that someone should pick up the phone and speak to her? Has he done so? Has the Foreign Secretary spoken to her? Has anyone telephoned her and had a conversation in which they have repeated what some of us are saying in the Chamber today?
I believe that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to Aung San Suu Kyi in recent weeks, when the situation was obviously already beginning to deteriorate. I know that he has regular conversations with her, and I am sure he will be on the phone to her again in that regard.
I am sorry if my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—the Thames lies between our constituencies—feels that I am repeating myself. It has to be said that there are only so many ways in which I can answer the same questions from Opposition Members. I do understand the heartfelt concerns expressed by Members on both sides of the House. As I say, I think the message will go out loud and clear to Rangoon and, indeed, to other parts of Burma.
I heard the Minister’s statement, and to be honest, I am quite disappointed. It is a really big issue, and he has mentioned a number of times that the Government are working on the ground. What exactly does he mean by “working on the ground”? What exactly has he been doing and what exactly has he done during the past few weeks? Will he please explain?
To be fair, the nature of diplomacy is to try to keep open lines of communication as far as possible. We obviously have connections at a ministerial level and also, and probably more importantly, through our embassy on the ground in Burma.
Above all, as I have said, there is the humanitarian aid that we are putting in place—a huge amount of work is going on—for the displaced communities that have been leaving. It is a massive humanitarian problem. At one level, it is clearly a problem for the international community, but vast amounts of DFID money—not least because of our expertise on the ground in that part of Bangladesh—are being put to good use to meet this humanitarian crisis.
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman feels that not enough is being done. The reality, however, is that if 25,000 or 30,000 more people are pouring across the border daily, that is amazingly difficult to deal with. I do believe—I am confident and satisfied—that Britain is doing all we can in the current circumstances, and as the situation unfolds in the weeks ahead, I hope that we can redouble our work. It is unrealistic to think anything else.
Over the past six years, the British public have witnessed the murderous persecution of the Rohingya in Rakhine province. At the same time, they have turned on their television screens and heard some of the Burmese Buddhists using language that suggests that the Rohingya are almost subhuman. We have seen that persecution going on. Given that we have given some £80 million a year in DFID aid over this period, the British public will want to know why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has no influence over the situation at all.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman seems to think that we have no influence. The reality is that even in the past six years, when I accept some terrible things have gone on for the Rohingya population in Burma, there has been a move towards some sense of democracy. There was an election of some sort and Aung San Suu Kyi came into office, albeit with the constitutional constraints she is under and the difficulties brought by the civil war that is going on.
Nothing could be further from the truth than the idea that we have done nothing. There has been a huge amount of energy, particularly from the UK Government. Sometimes that has happened quietly behind the scenes. We shall continue to do that on behalf of the many tens of thousands who find themselves displaced.
The Minister started his statement by talking about a Rohingya attack on the Burmese military. That flies in the face of what is an emerging genocide. When will the Government take a much stronger line with the Burmese Government, which in spite of the election of Aung San Suu Kyi are allowing the military to continue as it did before?
As I said to the hon. Gentleman earlier, the constitution unfortunately constrains that to a certain extent. The military have essentially been in control for most of the time since the successful coup of 1962. The moves towards democracy have, by British standards, been relatively small. The constraint we are under is that the hand of the military still plays a very important role from day to day.
I started my statement with that issue simply to say that the escalation we have seen in the past 10 days came about as the result of a terror attack and the reaction of the security services to it. That is the moment at which things reached the crisis point that we have seen over the past 10 days. However, I accept what has been said by many Members of the House: this is not something that has come out of the blue sky; the persecution of the Rohingya population has been a profound issue for decades.
The Rohingya were the loyal allies of Britain in world war two and now they face their darkest hour. Will the Minister give us a clear answer? Will the Government make representations to the UN Security Council, calling for its immediate intervention to protect the Rohingya?
As I pointed out, we are in touch with the UN Security Council. We led the discussions that took place last week in this regard. Clearly, as the situation unfolds, we will be happy to make further representations.
The Newcastle in solidarity with the people of Rohingya group meets on Monday. Does the Minister recognise that many people there—and there will be many people there—will take his word as evidence that he sees the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people as collateral damage in the establishment of democracy in Myanmar and, therefore, that the Rohingya people have no friend in this Government?
I really think that that is a very partisan view of the situation. I have tried to explain the constraints that the Government in Burma find themselves under. That is not to say that the Rohingya are collateral damage. We want to see democracy and, as has been pointed out by many Members, the persecution of the Rohingya minority is not something that has come out of the blue in the last year or two; it has been going on for some considerable time. I refute the analysis that the hon. Lady has put into play. We are doing our level best to ensure that this issue is dealt with and she should feel proud, as a UK parliamentarian, that it is the UK Government and our permanent representative in the UK who are taking a lead in raising the profile of this issue in international quarters.
Over the weekend, I met members of the Rohingya community in my constituency. They told me horrific stories of some of the most grave crimes against humanity. They did not even know whether their friends and family were dead or alive. They told me horrific stories of women and children being burned and tortured. They also told me that during her time in custody, they had led some of the biggest campaigns in this country for the immediate release of Ms Suu Kyi. Now, in their hour of need, they hear a deafening silence. Why will the Minister not condemn this grave crime against humanity; why will he not condemn the persecution and ethnic cleansing; and why will he not condemn the deafening silence of Ms Suu Kyi?
I will not condemn an elected politician who, in my view, is doing her level best in the most incredibly difficult circumstances. I have pointed out that we condemn violence, and we have done our level best to ensure that tensions are defused as far as possible. That is the position that we will put across to all sides in Burma. We want to see the tension reduced, not raised to a higher level as the hon. Gentleman perhaps suggests, in his passionate plea, would be the right way forward. I do not think that it would be.
The Minister may struggle with identifying the situation as genocide, but systematic rape, massacres and the burning of buildings of a minority community amount to ethnic cleansing to try to force it out of the country, if not out of existence. That is genocide. When can we expect an appropriate response to that effect from the Minister or the Government?
As I have said, that is a legal issue that has to go through the United Nations. It is not for the Government to make such a condemnation or to grandstand, either in the Chamber or elsewhere. The issue will need to be dealt with through the United Nations if it is to go to an International Criminal Court action, and at the moment we judge that it would be unlikely to get through the UN because at least one of the permanent five members of the Security Council would look to impose a veto. We will do our best to make the statements that we need to make in the international community, but this is ultimately a legal rather than a political matter. It would be easy for me to say words from the Dispatch Box to satisfy the hon. Lady now, but it makes much more sense to do things in a systematic manner.
The Department for International Development can and will do excellent work, but there are reports that authorities are restricting access to international aid. What will be done to ensure that the most vulnerable get the aid that they so desperately need? What political steps will be taken, and will the Government condemn those who will not allow access to aid in this humanitarian crisis?
The hon. Lady makes a fair point. Particularly on the Burmese side of the border, it is desperately difficult to get our DFID representatives the access that we would like them to have. By contrast, once people have crossed that border and are in refugee camps just inside the Bangladeshi border—I accept that that is by no means an ideal situation—we are able to do terrific work on the ground, and will continue to do so, to try to ensure that a looming humanitarian crisis is kept at bay.
One issue inhibiting the UN’s work is the almost complete absence of in-country staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Will the Minister urgently raise that with his counterparts to ensure that the commissioner’s staff are granted regular visas?
We will raise that. The hon. Lady will know that Mark Lowcock has just taken up his role, and we will want to discuss that issue with him at the first opportunity.
The message that seems to be coming over loud and clear today, as it has in the Foreign Secretary’s comments in recent days, is that the British Government are most concerned about defending the de facto leader and the worthy pursuit of democracy, at the expense of the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims. We have heard talk of getting the UN to take the situation seriously, but when are we going to escalate that? Given that children are being beheaded, villages burned and people raped in huge numbers, how serious does it have to get before we escalate our action?
I understand the upset that the hon. Lady feels. Anyone watching the desperate scenes unfold out in Burma and Bangladesh can only be moved by them. The truth is that if Aung San Suu Kyi were removed from office and Burma’s road towards democracy were closed off, it would be a calamity not just for the Rohingya but for every Burmese citizen, so we should not support that. We must work towards getting Burma on the road to democracy as much as possible rather than trading one off against the other.
I think the hon. Lady makes an unfair interpretation of the British Government’s position. We want to do our level best with what we have in place, but we recognise that things would be even worse if there were not some semblance of democracy in the Burmese Government.
Over the past five years, the UK Government have allocated over half a million pounds towards the provision of educational training to the Burmese security forces, which, among other things, aims to promote awareness of international humanitarian law, ethics and leadership. What assessment has the Minister made of the efficacy of such training, and, if it has been found wanting, will the Government divert such military aid towards humanitarian efforts?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman heard my words earlier on this issue. We are providing the money for educational courses, not military training. Their content complies with the UK’s commitments under the EU arms embargo. The UK is, and will remain, a very strong supporter of continuing the EU arms embargo. We will continue to comply with it as it applies to Burma.
EU Exit Negotiations
I will now update the House on the two rounds of negotiations with the European Union which took place in July and August. While at times the negotiations have been tough, it is clear that we have made concrete progress on many important issues. [Laughter.] I rather wondered whether Opposition Members would fall for that. I wonder how they are going to explain to their constituents that they do not care about the pensions and healthcare of 4 million people. I would like to thank all the officials who are working hard, both at home and in Brussels, to make this happen.
Colleagues will have received my letter following the July negotiation round, dated 9 August, which set out the dynamics of that round in some detail. These rounds are not at this stage about establishing jointly agreed legal text; they are about reaching a detailed understanding of each other’s position, understanding where there might be room for compromise and beginning to drill down into technical detail on a number of issues. During both rounds, discussions took place on all four areas, including specific issues relating to: the rights of citizens on both sides; Northern Ireland; the question of a financial settlement; and a number of technical separation issues. I will speak briefly about each in turn.
Making progress on citizens’ rights has been an area of focus for both negotiation rounds and we took significant steps forward in both July and August. We have published the joint technical paper, which sets out our respective positions in more detail, and this has been updated following the August round. It underlines both a significant alignment between our positions and provides clarity on areas where we have not, as yet, reached agreement. In July, we reached a high degree of convergence on: the scope of our proposals on residents and social security; the eligibility criteria for those who will benefit from residents rights under the scope of the withdrawal agreement; and a shared commitment to make the citizens’ application process as streamlined and efficient as possible. In August, we agreed: to protect the rights of frontier workers; to cover future social security contributions for those citizens covered by the withdrawal agreement; to maintain the rights of British citizens in the EU27 to set up and manage a business within their member state of residence, and vice versa; and that we should protect existing healthcare rights and arrangements for EU27 citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU. These are the European health insurance or “EHIC” arrangements.
These areas of agreement are good news. They may sound technical, but they matter enormously to individuals —something Opposition Members might remember when thinking about their own constituents. The agreement on healthcare rights, for example, will mean British pensioners living in the EU will continue to have their healthcare arrangements protected both where they live and when they travel to another member state, where they will still be able to use an EHIC card. On mutual recognition of qualifications, we have made progress in protecting the recognition of qualifications for British citizens resident in the EU27, and EU27 citizens resident in the UK. In fact, each one of those areas of agreement is reciprocal, and they will work for Brits in the EU and EU27 citizens in the UK. They help to provide certainty and clarity for EU27 citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU27. They will make a tangible difference to those people’s lives. I hope everyone recognises the importance of that.
The outcomes of the discussions demonstrate that we have delivered on our commitment to put citizens first, and to give them as much certainty as possible as early as possible in the process. Of course there are still areas of difference, on which we continue to work. For example, we will need to have further discussions on the specified cut-off date, on future family reunion, and on the broader issue of compliance on enforcement. Progress in those areas will require flexibility and pragmatism from both sides.
During the summer negotiating rounds, a number of issues emerged in the EU offer that will need further consideration. For example, the European Union does not plan to maintain the existing voting rights for UK nationals living in the EU. We have made it clear that we will protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK to stand and vote in municipal elections. Similarly, the EU proposals would not allow UK citizens currently resident in the EU to retain their rights if they moved within the EU.
Even in areas in which there has been progress, more is needed. While the EU has agreed to recognise the qualifications of UK citizens resident in the EU, and vice versa, we believe that that should go much further. The recognition must extend to students who are currently studying for a qualification, it must apply to onward movement by UK citizens in the EU, and it should extend more broadly to protect the livelihoods of thousands of people which depend on qualifications that will be gained before we exit the EU. In those areas, the EU’s proposals fall short of ensuring that UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK can continue to lead their lives broadly as they do now.
On separation issues—a very technical area—we established a number of sub-groups. They made progress in a number of specific areas, and drew on papers that the UK published ahead of both rounds. I am pleased to say that we are close to agreement on our approach to post-exit privileges and immunities—on which we have published a position paper—which it will benefit both the UK and the EU to maintain after we leave. We have agreed on our mutual approach to confidentiality requirements on shared information post-exit. With respect to nuclear materials, we held discussions on the need to resolve issues relating to the ownership of special fissile material, and the responsibility for radioactive waste and spent fuel held both here and there. We reiterated—this is important—a strong mutual interest in ensuring that the UK and the European Atomic Energy Community, or Euratom, continue to work closely together in the future as part of a comprehensive new partnership.
With respect to legal cases pending before the European Court of Justice, the parties discussed and made progress on the cut-off points for cases being defined as “pending”. There was also progress in discussions concerning the UK’s role before the Court while those pending cases are being heard. With respect to judicial co-operation in civil and commercial matters, and ongoing judicial co-operation in criminal matters, we made good progress on the principles of approach and the joint aim of providing legal certainty and avoiding unnecessary disruption to courts, businesses and families. With respect to goods on the market, both parties reiterated the importance of providing legal certainty for businesses and consumers across the EU and the UK at the point of departure. In that area, in particular, we emphasised that the broader principles outlined in the UK’s position paper seek to minimise the type of uncertainty and disruption for business that we are all working to avoid.
We remain committed to making as much progress as possible on the issues that are solely related to our withdrawal, but our discussions this week have demonstrated and exposed yet again that the UK’s approach is substantially more flexible and pragmatic than that of the EU, as it avoids unnecessary disruption for British businesses and consumers. I have urged the EU to be more imaginative and flexible in its approach to withdrawal on that point.
I am pleased to report that there has been significant, concrete progress in the vital area of Northern Ireland and Ireland. The negotiation co-ordinators explored a number of issues, including both the Belfast or Good Friday agreement and the common travel area. In August, the group also held detailed discussions on the basis of the UK position paper. As both Michel Barnier and I said at last week's press conference, there is a high degree of convergence on those key issues, and we agreed to work up shared principles on the common travel area. That is a major change.
We also agreed to carry out further technical work on cross-border co-operation under the Belfast agreement. Of course, as I said all along, the key issues in relation to cross-border economic co-operation and energy will need to form an integral part of discussions on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Finally, on the financial settlement, we have been clear that the UK and the EU will have financial obligations to each other that will survive our exit from the European Union. In July, the Commission set out the European Union position. We have a duty to our taxpayers to interrogate that position rigorously, and that is what we did, line by line—it might have been a little bit of a shock to the Commission, but that is what we did. At the August round, we set out our analysis of the EU’s position. We also had in-depth discussions on the European Investment Bank and other off-budget issues.
It is clear that the two sides have very different legal stances. But, as we said in the article 50 letter, the settlement should be in accordance with law and in the spirit of the UK’s continuing partnership with the EU. Michel Barnier and I agreed that we do not anticipate making incremental progress on the final shape of a financial deal in every round. Generally, we should not underestimate the usefulness of the process so far, but it is also clear that there are significant differences to be bridged in this sector.
Initial discussions were also held on governance and dispute resolution. These provided an opportunity to build a better, shared understanding of the need for a reliable means of enforcing the withdrawal agreement and resolving any disputes that might arise under it.
Alongside the negotiations, we have also published a number of papers which set out our thinking regarding our future special partnership with the EU. These future partnership papers are different from our papers that set out the position for the negotiations under our withdrawal agreement. Our future partnership papers are part of a concerted effort to pragmatically drive the progress we all want to see. All along, we have argued that talks around our withdrawal cannot be treated in isolation from the future partnership that we want. We can only resolve some of these issues with an eye on how the new partnership will work in the future. For example, on Northern Ireland it would be helpful to our shared objectives on avoiding a hard border to be able to begin discussions on how future customs arrangements will work. Furthermore, if we agree the comprehensive free trade agreement we are seeking as part of our future partnership, solutions in Northern Ireland are, of course, easier to deliver.
A second example is on financial matters. As I have said, the days of making vast yearly contributions to the EU budget will end when we leave. But there may be programmes that the UK wants to consider participating in as part of the new partnership that we seek. Naturally, we need to work out which of those we want to pursue; we need to discuss them as part of our talks on withdrawal from the EU and our future as its long-standing friend and closest neighbour.
A third example is on wider separation issues. While we are happy to negotiate and make progress on the separation issues, it is our long-term aim that ultimately many of these arrangements will not be necessary. With the clock ticking—to quote Mr Barnier—it would not be in either of our interests to run aspects of the negotiations twice. Last week, we turned our consideration to the next round of talks, and my message to the Commission was: let us continue to work together constructively, but put people above process.
To that end, my team will publish further papers in the coming weeks, continuing to set out our ambition for these negotiations, and the new deep and special partnership the UK wants to build with the EU. Ultimately, businesses and citizens on both sides want us to move swiftly on to discussing our future partnership, and we want that to happen after the European Council in October if possible.
As colleagues know, at the start of these negotiations both sides agreed that the aim was to make progress on four key areas: citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, Northern Ireland and Ireland, and broader separation issues. We have been doing just that, and I have always said—[Interruption.] Nobody has ever pretended that this will be easy; I have always said that this negotiation will be tough, complex and, at times, confrontational. So it has proved, but we must not lose sight of our overarching aim: to build a deep and special new partnership with our closest neighbours and allies, while also building a truly global Britain that can forge new relationships with the fastest growing economies around the world.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me notice of his statement. I also thank him for what I hope will be his agreement to update the House in this fashion after every round of the talks. I think that he has agreed to do that, and I am grateful.
We accept that the negotiations are complex and difficult, and I understand the Secretary of State’s frustration at points with the process and sympathise with the view that some phase 1 issues cannot fully be resolved until we get to phase 2. Northern Ireland is a classic example of that. Although he will not say it, I am sure he is equally frustrated by the deeply unhelpful “go whistle” and “blackmail” comments from some of his own colleagues. I am sure that colleagues and officials in his Department are working hard in these difficult negotiations and I pay tribute to what they are doing behind the scenes. However, the current state of affairs and the slow progress are a real cause for concern. The parties appear to be getting further apart, rather than closer together. Round 3 of the five in phase 1 is gone, and we would now expect agreement to be emerging on the key issues. The last round is in October, and that should involve formal agreement. There is now huge pressure on the negotiating round in September. If phase 2 is pushed back, there will be very serious consequences for Britain, and the concept of no deal, which I hoped had died a death since the election, could yet rise from the ashes—[Interruption.] Great? The second cause for concern is that it is becoming increasingly clear that the Prime Minister’s flawed red lines on issues such as the role of the European Court of Justice or any similar body are at the heart of the problem, as is the matter of progress on EU citizens here and abroad. The Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Government need to be much more flexible on that issue. I fear that these examples will crop up not only in phase 1, and that these flawed red lines will bedevil the rest of the negotiations. It is a fantasy to think that we can have a deep and comprehensive trade deal without shared institutions, and the sooner we face up to that, the better.
That brings me to my third concern. We are obviously reaching the stage of the negotiations where fantasy meets brutal reality. The truth is that too many promises have been made about Brexit that cannot be kept. The Secretary of State has just said that no one pretended this would be easy, but the Government were pretending it would be easy. The International Trade Secretary promised that a deal with the EU would be
“one of the easiest in human history”
to negotiate. A year ago, in the heady early days of his job, the Secretary of State himself wrote that
“within two years, before the negotiation with the EU is likely to be complete…we can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU.”
He went on to say that
“the new trade agreements will come into force at the point of exit from the EU, but they will be fully negotiated and therefore understood in detail well before then.”
Even this summer, the Government published position papers riddled with further fantasies. The “track and trace” customs idea was put forward on 15 August as an apparently serious proposition, only to be effectively removed on 1 September by the Secretary of State himself, with the admission that it was merely “blue sky thinking”.
The time for floating fantastical ideas is over. There must be no more promises that cannot be met. This is the brutal reality. We need to know how the Secretary of State intends to ensure that real progress is made in the September round. Is he intending to intensify the talks? Does he accept that it is now time to drop some of the Prime Minister’s deeply flawed red lines, in order to create the flexibility that he says is necessary? When will we see position papers that actually set out the Government’s considered position on the key issues?
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his comments at the beginning and for recognising that not only on Northern Ireland in particular, but on many other issues, the future relationship is indistinguishable from the ongoing negotiations. That is one of the problems in this negotiating exercise and it arises directly because the Commission is seeking to use keeping the first part of the negotiations going as a pressure point against Britain in the future, and I will return to that in a moment because I have a point to make.
On citizens’ rights, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman holds up as being—I have forgotten what his phrase was, but it involved something about red lines. Anyway, citizens’ rights is not the issue that is vexing the Commission. In fact, internal progress has been remarkably effective. He is quite right about the European Court of Justice, but everything else has been going pretty well. I expect that we will conclude most of those issues—in outline, not in text—quite soon. However, what does the right hon. and learned Gentleman actually want the Government to do? The Commission is saying, “Unless we give approval that sufficient progress has been made, we will not go on to the main substance of negotiation: the ongoing rights.” What is it seeking to get from that? It is seeking to obtain money. That is what this is about. Do members of the Labour party want to pay €100 billion in order to get progress in the next month? Is that what they are about? That is what they were saying. I hope that the answer is no, but what we heard from the shadow Brexit Secretary was a beautiful piece of lawyerly argument that ignored the simple fact that this is a pressure tactic to make us pay. We are going to do this the proper way. We are going to represent the interests of the British taxpayer and that means rigorously interrogating every line of the argument on funding line by line. That is the way that we are going to go.
As for the other elements that the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about, I do not resile at all from the intention to negotiate a first-rate free trade agreement with the European Union in the course of the next two years. That is why we published all the position papers. He tried to rubbish one or two of them, but let me cite one to him: the customs paper. By the way, saying that something is blue-sky thinking is not to rubbish it; it is to say that it is imaginative and forward-thinking. The position papers were designed to make points to our European partners so that they could see what the future might look like under our vision. Let me give him the response of Xavier Bertrand, the president of Hauts-de-France, which includes Calais and Dunkirk—our nearest ports in France. He said:
“We welcome with great interest the initiatives announced by the British government…as they are likely to preserve trade between the UK and France”.
France is supposedly the country most resistant to our arguments and to free trade, but the man responsible for Calais and Dunkirk said that that is the way that we should go and that is the way that we will go.
The Secretary of State will recall that during the referendum campaign the prominent leaders of the leave campaign who dominated the media refuted any suggestion that our future trading relationships with Europe would be affected in any way. The present Foreign Secretary put great weight on the fact that the Germans need to sell us their Mercedes and that the Italians need to sell us their prosecco. Now that we are modifying our trade agreement, does the Secretary of State accept that in the modern world any trade agreement with the EU, the US, Japan or anybody else involves some pooling of sovereignty, some mutual recognition or harmonisation of regulations, some defining and easing of customs barriers and some easing of tariffs, and that they always take years to negotiate or to modify?
Will the Secretary of State therefore demonstrate the imagination and flexibility that he has been demonstrating so far and actually accept that we should remain members of the existing single market and the customs union during the interim transitional period, which will be necessary before we have our new relationship? That will greatly ease his progress in opening up the hundreds of other issues that he will have to start negotiating in a moment and will certainly ease the great uncertainty in British business that is threatening to cause so much damage to our economy at the moment.
As ever, my right hon. and learned Friend—
We’re over here.
The microphone is there, and the speaker is there.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has touched on some important points. No. 1, on the ability to do this deal, we start from a position of exact identity on product regulations and other social regulation—such regulation is what worries the European Union—so we are in the same place. The issue is not one of bringing together massively different economies but of maintaining a reasonable relationship between the regulatory structures of our country and of that organisation.
My right hon. and learned Friend is quite right in one respect, which is that whenever a trade agreement is forged, it will have within it agreements on standards—the Canadian one did, for example—and not just on product standards but on, say, labour law standards. The Canadian deal has labour law commitments to stay above International Labour Organisation standards. In that respect, we are in the same place.
In terms of the implementation or transitionary period—call it what you will—there is now widespread agreement across Europe that it will be beneficial to have an implementation period. How long it will be and how it will work will be decided straightforwardly on practicalities. Three things will drive an implementation period: No. 1 is this Government’s ability to put in place regulations, new customs arrangements, and so on; No. 2 is the ability of companies, corporations and sometimes people to accommodate it, which is principally the issue with financial services, for example; and No. 3 is the ability of other countries to accommodate it. That is why the quote from Xavier Bertrand is important, because it shows a clear intent on the part of major French politicians to bring about the sort of frictionless trade that we want. I find myself largely agreeing with my right hon. and learned Friend, but this is why it is entirely possible to deliver a first-class Brexit for Britain.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement, and for giving us an advance copy.
The Secretary of State is looking for imagination and flexibility from the European Union, but I do not think there is anyone in the European Union with the fevered imagination needed to think that the NHS would be £357 million a week better off if we left the European Union. Will he clarify exactly what flexibility the UK Government have shown? They were inflexible to the point of obstinacy in trying to avoid any parliamentary oversight on the article 50 process. They set their own inflexible deadline for triggering article 50, and they set their own inflexible red lines before the negotiations had even started, including an inflexible determination to leave the single market without any idea at all as to where we would go instead.
All this has been done over the heads of the devolved national Governments and, to a large extent, over the heads of Members of this Parliament. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has updated the House today, but he has not updated the Joint Ministerial Committee since six weeks before article 50 was triggered, despite a joint request from both the Welsh and Scottish Governments for such a meeting.
Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the Government will now be flexible in having proper, meaningful and constructive dialogue with the devolved nations? Will he now accept that this Government’s continued obsession with immigration is forcing him into a dangerously inflexible position on the single market, threatening 80,000 jobs in Scotland and hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the UK? Or will the Government continue on their present course, charging blindfold towards a cliff edge and relying on the Daily Mail to make us believe that it was all the foreigners’ fault when it all goes wrong?
First, on flexibility, I have just mentioned areas that matter to individuals, such as guaranteeing their pensions, guaranteeing their healthcare and so on, and those areas did involve some flexibility on the part of the British negotiating team, which did a very good job.
On notification, I chaired a number of JMC meetings—I do not do it anymore, as the JMC is now chaired by the First Secretary of State—to keep the devolved Administrations up to speed. Indeed, yesterday I briefed in detail Mike Russell of the Scottish Government and Mark Drakeford of the Welsh Administration. Obviously, at the moment I have a bit of difficulty briefing the Northern Ireland Executive, because they do not exist yet. But the hon. Gentleman can take it as read that the concerns of the devolved Administrations have been taken on board very squarely and will continue to be so in the course of the ongoing negotiation.
I urge my right hon. Friend not to accept the advice of the Opposition party, which only six weeks ago was in favour of leaving the customs union and the single market, only to reverse that position today; he should stay steady on the course of the Government. On transition and implementation deals, over which the Opposition have got very excited, may I remind him of one simple fact: you cannot have any discussion about transition or implementation until you know what you are transitioning to? Thus the agreement over what we get with the European Union comes before any discussion about transition deals.
I take my right hon. Friend’s point about the Labour party. I was being quite kindly to my opposite number, the shadow Brexit Secretary—after all, I only have to negotiate with Brussels, whereas he has to negotiate with his entire Front Bench! My right hon. Friend is right to say that we have to know where the endgame will be—where the end position will be—in order to get an accurate description of the implementation and transition period. I will differ from him on one point: that does not mean that we should not make it clear up front that we intend to have some sort of implementation period, where it is necessary—only where it is necessary.
Leaving without a deal would be disastrous, and the Government must now realise that it will not be possible to negotiate the bespoke deal that they have spoken about at great length by the time set out under the article 50 process, because there will not be sufficient time, given the rate of progress. In order for the Secretary of State to talk about an implementation period, he has to have something to implement. Why does he not recognise, therefore, that the only way now to give business the stability and certainty it requires is to say that we will remain within the current trade and market access arrangements for a transitional period in order to allow a final deal to be negotiated and agreed?
Let us start with the right hon. Gentleman’s original presumption that we cannot achieve a negotiated deal in the period. As he should know, given his role as past and current Chairman of the Brexit Committee, the previous Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, who is no friend of Brexit and does not approve of what we are doing, has said in terms that it is not technically difficult to achieve a trade outcome—all it requires is political will. What it requires is the political will on the European side to do it. What will give that political will is the fact that it sells roughly €300 billion of product to us every year and will want to continue doing so.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that not only have the official Opposition been totally contradictory on the single market, customs union and the European Court, but they are now even defying their own manifesto and their vote on the article 50 Act, let alone the democratic outcome of the referendum itself? In other words, they have now moved from being remainers to reversers.
On the day the shadow Brexit Secretary was on “The Andrew Marr Show” saying, if I remember his words correctly, that he was glad to have a unified party behind his current policy—policy No. 10, by the way—on that very same programme the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) was saying exactly that: that the right hon. Gentleman was betraying Labour’s own voters. That is what the Labour party has to come to terms with. Its voters, more than anybody else, want us to leave. They voted for it and they want us to leave, and Labour had better deliver on it.
Last year, UK agencies initiated 3,000 Europol investigations, yet with just 18 months until we are due to lose our Europol membership, our European arrest warrant and our security co-operation underpinnings we still have no idea what the Government want—is it to replace this, to extend it or to include it in a transition? There have been no announcements and there was not even any mention of it in the Secretary of State’s statement today. When are we going to get some substance on this serious issue about public safety and national security? When is he going to realise that this waffle is letting the country down?
In my statement I discussed civil judicial co-operation and criminal judicial co-operation, which relate to the right hon. Lady’s question—or criminal judicial co-operation does, at least. The European Union will only negotiate on the ongoing relationship once it has decided there has been sufficient progress. At that point—I have said this in terms, and it was in the article 50 letter, the Lancaster House speech and the White Paper—we intend to negotiate a parallel arrangement, similar to what we have now, based on the structures we currently have, and we intend to maintain exactly what she says: the high level of co-operation on intelligence, counter-terrorism and anti-criminal work that we have had in the past.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on explaining that we have no legal liability to pay money above our contributions up to the date of departure. We want to get on and spend that on our priorities. Does he agree that the EU has a simple choice to make, which I hope it will make sooner but which it will probably make later: it can either trade with us with no new tariffs or barriers, because we have made a very generous offer, or it can trade with us under World Trade Organisation rules, which we know works fine for us because that is what we do with the rest of the world?
My right hon. Friend is exactly right, and one of the things I have picked up going around the European Union countries is that most of those nations also understand that fact very plainly. That is particularly true of those on the North sea littoral—Holland, Belgium and France, which I have mentioned, and Denmark—which all know that the impact of no deal on their economies would be dramatic, and more dramatic than for us.
Petulant references to the EU blackmailing the UK do not help our negotiating stance; in fact, they increase the risk of our crashing out of the EU. In those circumstances, does the Secretary of State still agree with himself on the need for a decision referendum, which would allow people to vote on the terms of the deal or to stay in the EU?
The right hon. Gentleman has had great difficulty understanding the distinction between mandate referendums and decision referendums down the years. I suggest he goes back and reads the speech properly, because he is just wrong and he does not understand it—
I have read it.
If he has read it, I fear he has some other problem.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I do not know whether he heard me, but I was cheering the contribution by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), because I agree that we should have a transition period that includes our remaining a member of the single market and the customs union. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Ah, yet again we hear cheers in support of that notion from right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, but does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that that is not the policy of the Labour party? In a radio interview yesterday, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) explained that Labour’s policy would be to negotiate a customs union with the EU by way of a transitional period. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that is exactly the Government’s policy?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, and she is right that the Labour party is incredibly confused about what its policy is. The approach we are taking is simple: we want a customs agreement that goes with a free trade agreement. Those two things together are designed to deliver frictionless free trade. We want not only to protect jobs and the economy, about which she is quite right to be concerned, but to be able to trade with the rest of the world, which is where the maximum growth is.
I hope there is a deal, and that it is good both for Europe and for us. However, to implement such a deal, with clause 9 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill the Government are seeking to allow Ministers to introduce regulations that
“may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament”—
“(including modifying this Act).”
In the whole history of this Parliament, no Government have ever come to Parliament to ask for that. That is not a Henry VIII clause; it is an Alice in Wonderland clause! Surely the Secretary of State, as the parliamentarian who has stood up so many times at the Dispatch Box to call for Parliament to have powers, should amend that provision before it comes to Committee stage.
I will deal with that in more detail on Thursday, but I am not the one in fantasy land. This is a Bill that will work and will deliver the best deal for Britain.
Has my right hon. Friend raised the thought with Monsieur Barnier that if a member state that is a net beneficiary were leaving, would he expect to pay it a large dowry? When he realises that the answer to that question is obvious, does it follow that the European Commission’s demand for money with menaces is ridiculous?
I did raise that point in a rather jocular way about three or four months ago and all I got was laughter. The important point is this: the European Union has based its argument on legal necessity—we have to pay because that is what the law says. Our approach to that was not to make some sort of counter bid as it wanted us to do, but to go back and say, “Okay, let’s test that law.” Last week, it was given a two-and-a-half hour briefing on why we think the legal basis is flawed. To some extent, that is why the end of that negotiating round was tetchier than the one before.
On the financial settlement, can the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will bring forward a separate and distinct vote in Parliament to authorise any billions of pounds of divorce bill from the European Union? I ask him because next Monday he is expecting the House—hon. Members will see this on the Order Paper—to vote for a money resolution, which authorises, in advance, any expenditure, and, worse, for a Ways and Means resolution, which authorises any tax. I do not think that he would accept that Parliament should be giving such a blank cheque in advance without knowing what the settlement is.
I think the hon. Gentleman has got that wrong. The Bill does not cover separation payments. I ask him to bear in mind one other thing that we have said, which is that there will be a vote of this House on the final settlement. My expectation is that the money argument will go on for the full duration of the negotiation. The famous European line that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed will apply here as it will everywhere else, but there will be a vote in which the House can reflect its view on the whole deal, including on money.
I thank the Secretary of State not only for this update, but for all his work over the summer. I spent a bit of the summer in Ireland and Northern Ireland with businesses trading across the border, looking at the papers and suggestions on customs and on Ireland and Northern Ireland. May I congratulate him on trying to find creative solutions to make that border crossing, and indeed crossing the channel, easier? There is interest from both sides of the border on working on those. Given the complexity, can he update us on whether we can move to continuous rather than monthly negotiations to progress discussions?
First, on customs borders and frictionless trade, there was a lot of attention on my visit to Washington last week, but I went straight from there to Detroit to look at the American-Canadian border. That has always been a very open border. I have traded across it myself, so I know it well. The average clearance time for a vehicle going through that border—there is a choke point—is 53 seconds. When we clear containers from outside the European Union area, we can clear 98% of them in four to five seconds. Technology can accelerate these things enormously well, and that is what we are aiming to do.
With respect to the negotiating round, we stand ready to do anything to accelerate the process. This process was asked for by the Commission. We must bear in mind that it has a very stiff, rigid, structured mandate process: it draws up its lines, negotiates, goes back to report to the other 27, and starts the cycle again. I do not know whether it is possible to get continuous negotiation that way. If it is, we would be happy to go along with it.
On the financial settlement, does the Secretary of State believe that the European Union is blackmailing the UK?
With the best will in the world, I choose my own words. In a negotiation there are pressure points, but that is to be expected. Anyone who imagines that 28 nations effectively negotiating together will not come to a point of pressure is living in another world—a fantasy world, someone said.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that it was Michel Barnier who described the idea of a transition period without a clear agreement at the end as a bridge to nowhere, so will he dismiss some of the advice that he has received on transition periods? May I also invite him to dismiss the idea that September will be the great progress point against which the Government should be tested? Should we not wait until after the German elections when the German Chancellor will be much more fully involved in the discussions before we become really impatient for progress?
I would not be harsh on Michel Barnier or others. The view of what a transition period is has gone through an enormous metamorphosis in the past six months. When we began talking about this—us and the European 27—the Europeans had in mind using the entire two years to negotiate a withdrawal agreement, then a sort of infinite transition period in which we negotiated our departure. That is clearly something that was massively against our interest in negotiating terms.
What was my hon. Friend’s second question? [Interruption.] Germany—yes. There are other issues that play against the timetable; there is no doubt about that. The German election takes place in three weeks or so, and the formation of the German Government will take at least another couple of months—probably three months. That will have an impact, because Germany—it is no secret—is the most powerful and important nation in Europe, as well as the paymaster, and it will have a big say in the outcome. So yes, there are other things to consider. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we should not pin ourselves to September, October or whatever, because in doing so we would be doing the job of the people negotiating against us, and we are precisely not going to do that.
A record number of EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom applied for British citizenship this summer. We have 3 million EU citizens living here. Given that there is still no certainty about their status, is the right hon. Gentleman’s advice to them immediately to apply for leave to remain in this country? If so, what additional resources does he propose to give to the Home Office?
My advice is almost the opposite. The simple truth is that if 3 million people applied for leave to remain the Home Office might have the odd glitch along the way. That is part of the point of saying that there will be a two-year grace period after departure in 2019 in which people can make that application. Between now and then a great deal of resource will be put in to ensure that that process is streamlined. The right hon. Gentleman will remember because of his previous eminent role that the original application document was something like 85 pages long. We got it down to 16 and now six. It will be streamlined to a very, very simple process by the time that we get to that two-year grace period.
Article 50 provides in terms that the negotiations in which my right hon. Friend is engaged should take into account the framework for the future relationship between the departing member state and the European Union, but, as we have heard, the EU refuses to address that question. When he next sits down with Michel Barnier, would my right hon. Friend draw to his attention the fact that he is in dereliction of his duties under the treaty and that his stubborn refusal to discuss that future relationship is as contrary to the interests of the European Union as it is to those of the United Kingdom?
My right hon. and dear Friend, who used to be in my Department not very long ago, knows full well that I have made those points more than once to Michel and other members of the Union negotiating team. This is not within the normal perspective as laid out by article 50, but we have gone along with it simply to get citizens’ rights under way. That is what we have done, but now we are getting to the point at which we will think very hard about what the next stage is.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s paper on Northern Ireland, particularly the assurances to Unionists that the border will not be drawn along the Irish sea, and equally to nationalists that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. I especially welcome the fact that those goals are achievable because of the practical measures suggested in the paper. Is he therefore disappointed by the Irish Government’s negative response to his paper, especially since they have so much to lose from an EU punishment beating of the UK? Has he had any assurances from the Irish Government that they will not act on the spiteful advice of Gerry Adams that they should block any agreement between the EU and the UK?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I fight very shy of getting entangled in Irish politics, but I am confident that we can get a non-visible border operational between Northern Ireland and Ireland using the most up-to-date technology. That was one reason why I went to Detroit. It was not so we could replicate what is in Detroit and Buffalo, but so we could use some of the same techniques, such as authorised economic operators, pre-notification and electronic tagging of containers. All those things will make it possible for the border to be as light-touch as it is today.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a failure to pass the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, transferring European law into British law, would plunge this country into chaos when we leave the European Union? Does he find it extraordinary that any party claiming to respect the decision of the British people should contemplate voting against it?
My right hon. Friend is exactly right. It is one of the reasons that there is tension within the Labour party now—[Interruption.] There is very visible tension on the television screen, let alone anywhere else. My right hon. Friend is dead right that the point of the repeal Bill—now the withdrawal Bill—is to ensure that the laws we have the day before we leave the European Union are the same laws as the ones we have the day after we leave, except where there has been another piece of primary legislation to replace it, whether on immigration or whatever else. That is simply a practical matter. It should not actually be a matter of politics; it is a simple matter of national interest.
As the Secretary of State just said, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is a crucial piece of legislation for us to leave the EU. Would he therefore agree that, although people might have difficulties with parts of it that can be discussed in Committee, anyone who votes against the principle on Second Reading is betraying the will of the British people?
The hon. Lady is exactly right. Such people will have to face their own constituents because those constituents voted to leave. This is a practical Bill designed to protect the interests of British business and British citizens. That is what it is there for—nothing else.
In the Secretary of State’s closing remarks at the most recent round of negotiation, he said that the UK has shown
“a willingness to discuss creative solutions”
on the governance of citizens’ rights. Will he outline in more detail the governance proposals?
This is the area where the European Union’s start position was to have European Court of Justice direct effect in the United Kingdom. We have said that we are a country that obeys the rule of law and its international treaties, that the treaty would be passed through into the law—we would repeat it there—and that we may set up some ombudsman arrangement with a reference to it. Those are the sort of ideas that we have in play.